Commentary by Matt McGregor, Arts & Features Staff Writer
Letting go is the hardest part about learning to fly.
Climbing the ladder to the narrow pedestal at Dare to Fly Trapeze, my heart gains a fearful weight as nervous hands question the logic of reaching for the next rung.
Luckily, a friendly face awaits. Sadye Osterloh stands on the pedestal singing an impromptu song with the explicit lyrics, “coming up the ladder.” Her enthusiastic singing speaks to how much she loves her job.
“I’m up there with people when they come up the ladder and with them when they take their first, second and third leap,” Sadye says. “It’s really neat to just watch people go through the process of just coming up the ladder experiencing the range of emotions they feel when they get up there.”
Sadye handles my fear and excitement nonchalantly, singing to these emotions like a chanteuse psychologist.
“If they’re excited I get excited with them. If they’re scared I talk them through their fears and help them hop off,” Sadye says. “It’s cool to see them when they experience their first swing and then come back up feeling more and more confident.”
Dari Layne, co-owner of Dare to Fly Trapeze at 456 Broadway in Asheville, stands beside the net guiding the swing, pulling safety lines and giving instructions.
“The two things people find the scariest initially are the ladder and taking off from the board,” Dari says. “We do have a saying: first time for fear, second time for fun, third time’s a charm. First time, you will be scared. Everybody is.”
For a basic class at Dare to Fly Trapeze, instructions are legs up, hook your knees, hands off, arch your back and reach, hands up, legs down. Following this recipe of movements result in the exhilarating basic swing and knee hang. The final set of instructions may produce a backflip off the bar with a cannonball landing on the net.
Of course, this is what takes place if I can follow the instructions.
“I will expect you not to do anything I tell you because most people have a hard time listening when they are that scared,” Dari says. “Some people pick it right up, but nine times out of 10, people are in sensory overload, and there is so much going on that it’s hard to focus on what I’m telling you. But the next time you go up, it becomes easier.”
Dari would know. She’s been performing in aerial arts since she was a 13-year-old dancer and gymnast. She became entranced by the circus performances on vacation at Club Med with her parents, then started working for Club Med as a flying trapeze artist in 1996.
“My love of trapeze, the pure flying, the pure adrenaline rush and just that feeling of flying through the air became a massive passion for me,” Dari says. “I love getting other people as excited about this as I am.”
She points upward to the fear-inducing platform.
“That is my favorite place in the world,” Dari declares. “To sit up on that pedestal board. I just love being up there.”
She started Dare to Fly Trapeze with Christine Aiken, who also has a background in flying trapeze. They set up in July, and their official grand opening took place on Sept. 22.
Their basic classes take place on Tuesday and Thursday at 5:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 11:45 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work to get here,” Dari says. “Once this thing takes off, we have a feeling it will really take off. We hope to have the locals who will fall in love with it and want to do it all the time, and then the tourists. There aren’t that many cities you can do this in.”
Keli Keach attended a class in June and got hooked. She now comes to assist and learn the art.
“For me it’s very playful,” Keli says. “The feeling of gravity with the swing of being able to move your body according to the timing is a good feeling.”
Keli learns to set up the rig which includes a complicated hour and a half of tying knots, pulling slack out of rope, tightening the net and angling poles so that they lean in just the right way when someone lands on the net, and extending the ladder of fear up against the platform of trepidation.
This is where Alysha Harris will eventually stand waiting to jump and swing, fulfilling her mother’s dream.
“She passed away five years ago,” Alysha says. “I asked her if there was anything you could do, what would it be? She said she always wanted to be a trapeze artist. But there was nothing like this around.”
Dare to Fly Trapeze is the last stop for Alysha before she and her son, Benny, leave Asheville.
“The trapeze is a metaphor for my new leap and for letting go of the past,” Alysha says.
Alysha jumps off the platform and swings into a knee hang. She proceeds to forward kick into a back flip, letting the bar slip from her fingers and lands onto the net, laughing.
Later Alysha says letting go was the hardest part, though she performed the action gracefully.
Even Sadye admits, though she’s worked with a Russian circus trainer and the Runaway Circus, her biggest challenge is turning off her brain and listening.
“There’s this trick I’ve been working on and each time at the end when I’m supposed to let go and do this flip, I always release the bar on my own instead of waiting for Dari’s instruction to let go,” Sadye says.
Participating in Dare to Fly Trapeze, Dari says, takes little coordination, and strength is not a requirement.
“The most important thing you can do is listen,” Dari says. “If you try to bring your legs up too early you are fighting gravity the whole time so you really have to wait until I tell you to do things in the correct time.”
I reach the top of the ladder and stand on the platform as Sadye positions my body to jump off, toes over the the edge, left arm stretched out holding the side bar. I lean forward with my right hand reaching for the swing. My mind races faster than the adrenaline as I await the command to jump.
How does one let go?
“There is a certain timing to everything,” Dari says.