Naturally, there's thrill in the flying trapeze. But the other rewards might surprise you.
Trapeze school in Chicago
Trapeze school in Chicago

It wasn't to conquer a fear of heights. Even after a few years, I still feel anxious climbing a two-and-a-half-story ladder, only to grab a surprisingly heavy metal bar that wants to yank my body off the platform. Instead, it was a shriek that set my will to fly.

In a class of first-time flyers, there's always one giddy, awkward screamer, and I was lucky enough to hear the echo of one. It came from the quiet stretch of Chicago lakefront lawn where Trapeze School New York holds classes and a friend of mine walks her dog. Hearing the cry (and the giggle that followed, after the flyer landed in the net) was like spying a secret club of fun. I wanted that kind of life lift, too. Midair seemed a natural place to find it, so I signed up.

Trapeze school in Chicago

I sucked in some air as they pulled the safety belt tight.

I suppose some daredevil instinct guided me up that ladder, which I hated climbing. Challenging myself wasn't new. I have a habit of always pushing myself to accomplish more, to prove more. Trapeze showed me that simply trying is where the real fun lies. There was the high of that first downward curve, then adrenaline took a back seat, swinging me from yen to zen.

Gravity is a natural law, and if you're going to hang by your knees and fly into the hands of a stranger on another swing, you'd best abide. There was a calm, funny guy on the ground who held my safety lines and shouted my instructions. My job was to listen. And against my instincts, beyond the noisy clutter in my brain, I did.

When I resolved to do the motion they called, the second they called it, everything became easy. Three small kicks more, and I let go on cue to land a backflip. I was having more fun than a sugar-fed kid on a coaster, but I also felt peace.

In circus, every feat is called a "trick." But the person tricked was me. I've been flying for several years now, and while it's fueled me with growing strength and confidence, I still find that the moment of stillness in the mandate to trust on cue is the greatest, rarest reward. Sometimes I'm able to listen when the catcher calls "Hup!" (meaning, "Let go!") and nail the trick. Sometimes I can't. But there's an unyielding, unwavering consistency to gravity's ebbs and flows that makes it all feel possible.

Flying may be the greatest metaphor for independence, but flying trapeze has yielded me a generous, supportive, non-competitive community of soaring dimensions. I still hate the climb, but I highly recommend that first hop off (

Trapeze school in Chicago
Trapeze School New York in Chicago offers sessions from $50.