WASHINGTON – Meghan Bourke had a terrible fear of heights.
“Four-story windows would give me vertigo and I would have to lie on the floor of the car to drive over a bridge,” she says.
After taking one lesson at the D.C. Trapeze School at the Navy Yard in Southeast, Bourke became a regular student. Now she spends much of her life suspended in the air teaching others.
The school, providing a wide range of aerial activities at their Navy Yard facility in Southeast D.C., attracts mostly women between the ages of 25 and 45. Some men are taking it up, too.
Bourke’s metamorphasis is common for students, according to Brian McVicker, president of the school.
“You come in expecting that you might be able to take a couple of swings, and before you know it you are going across to a catcher,” McVicker says. “They do that and then their whole world opens up.”
National President Jonathon Conant began the school after first trying the trapeze during a vacation at Club Med in 1998.
“I saw that the flying trapeze was an amazing tool for helping people (re)discover what they might be capable of,” he says. “But at home I found that trapeze, while popular at resorts, was far from mainstream in the United States.”
So Conant decided to build his own trapeze school. The first was in New York. It has since expanded to locations in Baltimore, Santa Monica, D.C. and Boston.
Sheri Baxter, a Fairfax area student, didn’t have a fear of flying but says she was far from being an acrobat.
“I am very much more a studious person than a physical person so for me making these achievements makes me feel very confident in other abilities in my life,” she says.
After just one lesson, Baxter, now in her forties, was hooked on the total body work out.
“I am taking several lessons a week. I’m in better shape now than when I was in my 20s,” she says.
McVicker cites experiences like Baxter’s as the best part of the trapeze workout.
“It doesn’t feel like you’re working out until the end,” he says. “Maybe you’re working on your swing and trying to create height. All of those things involve all of the muscles in your body.”
The school also offers other aerial arts, such as the silks – long, flowing, colorful fabrics that hang from the ceiling. Artists climb them and perform routines while hanging.
An instructor for the silks, Carey Nagoda, says that she believes it is the most physically challenging of the aerial arts, and the most beautiful to watch.
“I love taking the people that say ‘I can’t do this at all,’ and they get that one little hurdle, the one little task that they can do,” she says. “Then they do it and they think ‘Oh, I can!’ and that builds their confidence to do more.
“The next thing you know they are advanced students.”