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Aug 11, 2009 9:48 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Trapeze brings thrills and empowerment

Aug 11, 2009 9:48 AM

Standing 25 feet above the ground and preparing to make her first ever attempt at the flying trapeze, Triona Lillis was overcome with fear.

Despite her safety harness and the capable instructor beside her, Lillis, who was nearly in tears, shook her head and insisted that she would turn back. An additional instructor joined her on the tiny and precarious ledge and after some encouragement, she jumped.

“I had no choice,” Lillis said shortly after she flew through the air, up and back down again. “I feel exhilarated now.”

The mother of two, a visitor from Ireland, never hesitated again that day and she even attempted the difficult flying catch maneuver, which concludes each class at the Trapeze Experience in Bridgehampton.

“The things people are frightened of are not necessarily happening outside their body,” Trapeze Experience owner and director Peter Gold said, explaining that his classes offer thrills, but self-empowerment is the greatest benefit. “Trapeze totally, totally requires that people exercise their faith muscles,” he said. “You have to believe.”

Gold is offering two-hour group trapeze classes and private lessons at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton through September 7. He and his staff of five instructors have a wealth of experience in trapeze and the circus arts and they spend the entire year teaching classes around the country. “I’ve been involved in the circus arts full time since 1986,” Gold said, noting that he started out teaching trapeze for tourists at Club Med in St. Lucia, then worked for Ringling Brothers for four years before eventually launching his own business.

“I think somewhere deep inside, our spirit wants to soar,” he said, explaining that, for many, trapeze can be an important and life-changing experience. “Trapeze is invigorating, healthy and wholesome,” Gold said, noting that the circus represents the idea of “going from the impossible to the possible.”

That change translates into all aspects of everyday life, for body, mind and spirit, he said, adding, “I think that’s what people need.”

Lillis and her large group of friends and family came to the Trapeze Experience as a birthday gift for Dominic Lucas, 13, an American boy their children met at a soccer camp on Shelter Island.

“It was great,” Dominic said after his jump.

Instructors begin each class on the ground, explaining basic maneuvers and safety instructions, but it’s not long before students climb up to face their fears. “We have a sequence of learning, but we go at the pace of the individual,” Gold said. But in the interest of time and swift advancement, novice acrobats are usually asked to attempt a knee hang on their first jump. The trick allows their arms to be free so an instructor, also hanging by his or her knees, can catch them, locking hands from a second trapeze later on.

“Kids are little daredevils,” Gold said, explaining that he accepts children as young as 6 years old and they rarely experience the fear that grips older students. Despite their initial hesitance, he said adults quickly realize they’re OK after jumping and they enjoy the freedom following a lifetime of holding back.

“This is a safe place to take chances,” Gold said. “People let go of the worry, the doubt, the disappointment.” He noted that a lot of people want an extreme experience, such as skydiving, bungee jumping or hang gliding, and trapeze is probably the most controlled of the lot. “It’s a very safe extreme experience.”

Gold is on the faculty at the Omega Institute, a holistic school with a mission of wellness, hope and healing for individuals and society. His belief that trapeze is much more than a good time fits well with the institute’s philosophy. Gold said it’s a noncompetitive and very personal activity that “bumps people against their model of the world.”

Lillis’s group consisted of three young boys, several young girls and adult men and women. All of them enjoyed the class and almost everyone attempted the daring midair catch. Just four people—Dominic; Lillis’s boyfriend, Gavin Morgan; her 13-year-old daughter, Ella; and good friend Colette Hastings, one of the mothers—completed the trick, but just attempting it was rewarding enough.

As was the case for Gold, some people are so taken by the trapeze that it becomes a long-term pursuit. Most of his instructors started as students, but they kept coming back, and Gold said he’s thrilled to have them all.

“I came once for fun, was curious, and I just fell in love, I guess,” Susie Williams said, explaining her journey toward the trapeze. The job has since taken her to Miami, Austin, California, upstate New York and Bridgehampton, among other locations. “We kind of follow the sun,” Williams said, adding, “We love being in the Hamptons.” She said the team gets to meet great people at each stop on the Trapeze Experience tour. “Psychologically, it’s a great job,” Williams said. “No one leaves here unhappy.”

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I have to say that the instructors of Popcorn Here/Trapeze Experience are the most amazing people ever! They not only taught me how to fly, but it helped me overcome all of my fears of heights and even flying! They are the best school, best teachers and i HIGHLY recommend this to EVERYONE! And be fast - they leave us so soon!!! Thanks 27east for giving them the recognition they deserve!
By OceanLove (4), Q on Aug 11, 09 3:54 PM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser