Don't Just See the Circus, BE the Circus!
ANYONE can fly through the air with the greatest of ease at the Tito Gaona Flying
By Lisa Codianne Fowler
I’m uncoordinated, non-athletic, and let’s just say my muscles and cardiovascular system have been on vacation for about a year. But Tito Gaona’s trapeze school boasts students of all ages and levels of fitness. Seemed like a fun idea for an article, and besides, if I could do it, anyone could, and I set out to prove it. But my bravado turned to sheer terror the moment I arrived.
Trapezes that hung from the clouds, nets big enough to catch schools of tarpon and torturous looking ropes, hooks and other apparatuses were all very daunting. Students ages 3 to 80? Super-human toddlers and octogenarians who are ex-Olympic champions, maybe. “Bad idea,” I kept thinking, over and over. Enter Carmel Koos, an attractive 40-something instructor with a lithe body and an easy smile.
“A lot of it is just timing and being able to relax and go with the flow,” she explained. (Flow? There is no flow! Can I escape before Tito arrives?) “It’s hard to describe,” she said. (Try.) “Everybody starts at the same place; the beginning,” she said reassuringly. Tito appeared and greeted me with a hug. “Are you ready for this?” (No, I’m terrified) “Just hold on!”
Part of my anxiety, they explained, stemmed from the fact that I had confused trapeze with high wire. A most important distinction is that with a trapeze, you always have a net and safety lines.
The Tito Gaona Flying Trapeze Academy is located in the old Ringling Winter Quarters in Venice, where circus stars performed and Guenther Gebel-Williams trained circus animals for 30 years. I stood where legends trained, horses pranced and elephants marched. For a brief moment, I saw it, heard it; smelled it. Fact is, I was with a living legend; Tito is a world-renowned circus performer, charming, vibrant and committed to keeping the circus alive through his camps for kids, non-profit Venice Circus Arts Foundation and schools here and in Boston.
My lesson began on the “little trapeze.” Carmel strapped a wide belt around my waist and hooked it to the safety ropes. The trapeze loomed several feet above my reach. From a stepladder, I stretched to grab the trapeze bar, stepped off the ladder and well, just hung. “Great,” Tito said. “She’s got it,” Carmel exclaimed. I did it again and again; then Carmel gave me a push. “Keep your arms and legs straight, swing your legs forward and back,” said Tito. I swung back and forth a few times … easy. “Now let go.”
“LET GO!” Against reason and sanity I released my grip, expecting a jarring free fall and more than one broken bone. Instead, it was a controlled descent and my feet gently touched the ground.
Next, we moved to a “real” trapeze. Carmel hooked me up and demonstrated how to ascend the ladder. Hand over hand, foot over foot; I climbed toward the sky. “That’s it, you’re doing it!’ encouraged Tito, who was perched on the pedestal bar far above me. I finally joined him.
My heart was pounding and I couldn’t breathe. “I don’t think I can go through with this,” I said. Tito put his hands on my shoulders. “You can, you are,” he says softly. “Tell me, what are you afraid of?” Hmmm. Good question. Not heights, though it felt unfamiliar to be so high above the ground that real cars looked liked Tonka toys. What was I afraid of?
I reached for the trapeze, my feet left the pedestal bar and whoosh! It’s a bird, it’s a plane; it’s, uh, … me! Legs forward, back, forward and “Now let go!” This time I did without hesitation. WaHOOO! What a rush! Power, freedom, confidence! And, encore! I did it again, but this time, I was aware of the warm sun, the sea breeze and … the conquering of fear.
I wanted to hold onto the feeling forever.
Forget the boring gym, Pilates, running, weightlifting and the spa. (Well, maybe not the spa). Flying is not only a thrilling workout, but also an amazing therapy for body, mind and soul. Athletic ability is not required, just reasonably good health, a sense of adventure and a willingness to literally, let go.
Group lessons as well as private lessons are available. Visit a class or purchase a video to preview a class session. Located at 1401 Ringling Drive South, Venice, FL. Classes held Sept.-May: Weds. & Fri. 5-7 p.m. · June-Aug.: 10 a.m. Mon.-Fri. For more information call 941-504-1552 or visit www.titogaona.com.
Updated and reprinted from Visit Sarasota's monthly newsletter