What do the words “flexus,” “birdie,” and “cutaway” have in common? All three describe tricks that trapeze artists perform.
Trapeze vocabulary is extensive, and rightfully so. Delicate leaps, precision timing, and all sorts of stunts come together to form an entertaining and complex aerial dance.
Students at Flying Colors Trapeze know both the difficulty and the reward of aerial acrobatics. During week-long trapeze summer camps, youths can learn the basics of circus performances.
Sherri Mann, the director of Flying Colors, got the trapeze setup fifteen years ago and hosted small clubs for trapeze hobbyists. In 2016, Mann had shifted her focus to empower young people with self-confidence and freedom by teaching them trapeze.
Flying Colors Trapeze became partners with the Girl Scouts to host daytime camps for scouts to earn circus-related badges. They also provide training courses for adults and run special camps focused on personal development.
But this year, of course, things are a little different thanks to COVID-19.
“Life is life,” she said, explaining her first thoughts when COVID-19 caused businesses to shut down. “‘Roll with it.’ That was my reaction. See what happens.”
All of the June activities were canceled to keep the community safe. So were the adult retreats and any other event that involved sleeping at the trapeze center or eating meals together.
But, as they say in the circus, the show must go on. The staff took advantage of the cleared schedule to reorganize other activities and prepare for social distancing measures.
Mann is focused on building self-confidence in children, and there’s no better time to do that than the year 2020.
“Our mission is to create empowering situations for children,” Mann said. “So I think it’s even more valid this year because I think this whole thing really freaks children out.”
Although circus acrobatics might not be considered a “normal” activity, swinging on ropes from great heights helps kids conquer “normal” fears.
“We give them an opportunity to face their fears in a really safe way,” Mann said, “and then it’s really empowering when you can do that.”
Throughout the week, trapeze students are organized into groups of five to minimize physical interaction. With their instructor, they learn everything from bicycle tricks to swinging on aerial silks.
The facility is mostly outdoors, which gets the kids out into nature, breathing fresh air. Direct sunlight may also help kill Coronavirus on surfaces, making the equipment potentially safer to share.
Masks become problematic when the students need nonverbal affirmation. Facial expressions are crucial for children to interact with others, so coaches have been intentional about taking off their mask to smile when they’re a safe distance away.
After months of staying at home, the students and their families are happy to get out of the house and be active.
One parent, Ashley Swenson, signed up her daughter for the camp for her birthday. After spotting the trapeze setup while driving, her daughter was insistent on trying it out.
“We’ve been really cooped up,” Swenson said. “We have a pretty big family.”
While the pandemic lockdowns have given the Swenson family some quality bonding time, the kids have been anxious to get out and play like they used to.
“She’s really loved it,” Swenson said. “She’s loved being able to get out and be physically active and fly through the air. She’s having a good time.”
The family is already planning on signing up for classes next year.
Mann believes the same Coronavirus risks will be unchanged next summer, but she will be prepared for it. With similar health precautions, an array of events are hoped to be available for trapeze students of all ages.
The turmoil of our upset world has made Mann surer of her mission to help kids be confident.
“Like, we give our kids everything,” Mann said. “There’s some certain value you get in working and accomplishing – there’s an interpersonal value you get from that.”
As the trapezing season begins to wrap up this year, parents will continue to learn how to manage their child’s well being in a quarantined world. Mann encourages families to get out into nature and be together.
“Consider seeing this time as a gift to slow down and really enjoy your kids,” Mann said. “They grow up so fast, and more than anything, want to connect with their parents and families and be seen.”