Emily Dawson
Credit: Mark Hancock

For those seeking the high-flying skills of actual circus trapeze, learning is a little farther away. Trapeze Austin in Texas is the closest such school to Oklahoma City.

OKC resident Kathy Dinh gave the school a try when a friend asked her one weekend.

“I’d never done it before, and there’s something about conquering new territory,” Dinh said.

Climbing a 60-foot ladder under a circus tent to reach the trapeze platform, however, is not for the fainthearted.

“It was really scary,” she said. “We had safety belts on and a net below, but I couldn’t breathe. It was great [to] finally let go and do it. It was exhilarating to get over that fear, and I will never get to experience that first time again.”

But for something a little closer to home — and the ground — City Arts Center, 3000 General Pershing, has two low trapezes hanging from its ceiling. At 5:30 p.m. on any given Wednesday, beginners and professionals place hands on the bar and heave their bodies over like wet laundry.

At Perpetual Motion Dance Company, aerials are as much a part of the choreography as music and feet.

From single-point, low-flying trapeze, to silk ropes and iron ladders, the company has found a way to move through the air in a mix of traditional dance and aerial acrobatics.

“We have people who come in from the community and then we have the company’s professional dancers,” said Kim Kieffer, director of aerial dance at Perpetual Motion. “This is dance, so we try not to fall into just doing tricks. That’s fun for the circus.”

Although founded in 2002, Perpetual Motion only added aerials, starting with the low trapeze, in 2005.

“Since then, we’ve found more new, crazy things to fly on,” said Kieffer. “The dance trapeze is 5 feet off the ground … allowing transition from the trapeze to the floor and back to the apparatus. It’s different from the high trapeze. It keeps the integrity of modern dance and becomes one continual dance space.”

On the wire

Flying and dancing struck a nerve with audiences, who wanted to learn the art.

“The aerials add a dimension that engages them visually,” said Michelle Dexter, the troupe’s artistic director. “We had so many people ask about learning, so we began classes. The aerials add a dimension that engages visually. We had so many people ask about learning, we began classes.”

Trapeze takes substantial arm and back strength, as well as good old-fashioned balance and poise. Unlike the circus trapeze, momentum helps only a little.

“Some of the people who take the classes are dancers and gymnasts, but a lot are people who are looking for a different way to exercise or try something new in their lives,” said Dexter. “We teach the steps, because there are really no specific pathways in trapeze.”

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