Never say Baltimore is not a swinging place

Trapeze school planned at harborside by summer

May 12, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

You don't have to run away to join the circus anymore.

A New York trapeze school that has been turning tourists and the occasional Sex in the City star into high fliers wants to persuade Baltimoreans to hurl themselves off 23-foot platforms at the Inner Harbor.

City officials are expected to sign off on a deal today that would allow Trapeze School New York, operating under the name TSNY Baltimore, to give lessons at Rash Field until November.

Along with rent of $2,000 a month, the city would get an attraction not often found outside of summer camps and Club Med-style resorts.

And aerialists of any age - assuming they have all the nerve and only a little more muscle than the average bungee jumper - will get the sort of stomach-churning thrill that the nearby IMAX theater can only approximate.

"You'll walk down to the Inner Harbor and say, `Wow! People are flying!'" said Roslyn Johnson, associate director of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, which initiated the deal.

Some summer camps offer trapeze along with more traditional outdoorsy fare such as canoeing. So do some tropical resorts, as a way to entertain tourists tired of volleyball and para-sailing. But there aren't many other places where people can live out their Cirque du Soleil fantasies.

Into the mainstream

"People who got to do it were basically at Club Med or some kid who went to summer camp," said Jason Klein, director of Pikesville-based Timber Ridge Camp, which teaches trapeze. "And now it's becoming a little more mainstream. Baltimore's going to be one of the first cities besides New York to have" trapezes.

Would-be Wallendas will be swinging by Memorial Day if, as expected, approval is granted today, said Brian McVicker, president of TSNY Baltimore. All they will need is $40 to $65 (weekdays and mornings will be cheapest) and a minimal level of physical fitness.

"If you can hold your body weight for even 15 seconds, you can do the trapeze," McVicker said.

Which isn't to say there isn't some skill involved. Students need to master moves on a bar suspended 6 feet in the air before they can graduate to the 23-foot platforms, with safety lines strung from above and a net stretched out below. There, they can try to flip off the bar and into the arms of a "catcher."

Forty percent of students don't get to that level in just one class, McVicker said.

But the sport of trapeze - enthusiasts do consider it a sport - demands more technique than brute strength, he said, comparing it to yoga.

"It has a sports base," he said. "There is some athletics involved in it. I like to steer away from the idea that it's an amusement, like it's a ride.

"You are required to participate and really focus as if you were in school learning gymnastics. This is unlike bungee jumping. ... It is, in the same way yoga is, somewhat challenging for you to get the positions of your body right."

People who have heart conditions or are pregnant are urged to consult their doctors before taking the class, McVicker said. Participants must sign forms waiving the right to sue in case of injury or death, he said.

The school plans to set up its poles, cables, safety mats and nets on a grassy area near the Rusty Scupper restaurant. It will not interfere with other activities on Rash Field, Johnson said.

Unique offering

The plan came as a surprise to an official contacted yesterday at the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. But Kristin Zissel, a spokeswoman for BACVA, said trapeze at the Inner Harbor sounds like a good idea.

"If it's something that's only happening in New York and resort areas, it drives home the point that Baltimore has a lot of really unique things to offer," she said.

The company has offered trapeze lessons on the Hudson River on New York's Lower West Side for two years. It opened there for a third season last weekend, and about 100 people took classes, McVicker said.

Among the school's more famous swingers is Sarah Jessica Parker, whose Sex and the City character took lessons for an episode last year. Weatherman Al Roker also gave it a try on NBC.

One of those TV shows - Johnson wouldn't say which - caught the attention of Kimberley A. Flowers, Baltimore's director of recreation and parks. Flowers, who was traveling yesterday and unavailable for comment, contacted the school about offering classes here, Johnson said.

Under its agreement with the city, the school would offer free lessons to children from about 30 city recreation centers, Johnson said. The school will look for an indoor site for year-round lessons if the Inner Harbor program is successful, McVicker said.

By attracting trapeze to the city, Flowers was following the directive of Mayor Martin O'Malley to reach out to the "creative class," Johnson said.

Johnson noted that O'Malley has urged city officials to read The Rise of the Creative Class. In the 2002 book, Carnegie Mellon University professor Richard Florida argues that cities will grow if they make themselves more appealing to creative people, a group that includes scientists, students, artists and musicians.

Not to mention trapeze artists.

"If you create more creative activities," Johnson said, "more creative people will come."

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