Chalk it up to the understatement of a teacher who doesn't want to freak out her students.
"From down here, it looks high," said Paula Murphy, founder of "aerial arts instruction center" Fly Boise, standing beneath a towering platform prior to a Saturday morning trapeze class in a grassy field near Boise Towne Square Mall.
"From up there," Murphy added, indicating the platform above, "it looks high."
Once they're arcing through the sky, however, trapeze students get something worth a little vertigo: The freedom of actual flight. As it turns out, almost anyone can learn to soar.
Murphy started Fly Boise about a year ago after purchasing a portable trapeze rig for about $40,000. Learning trapeze acrobatics was on her bucket list after seeing it on television show Circus of the Stars. For her 43rd birthday, she checked that item off her list. Now, Murphy believes the trapeze can help people who are afraid of heights.
"It's a really great place for people to confront that fear in a controlled way," she said.
That may be true, but the first 10 minutes of a class could be summed up with, "Here's how you will swing backward at 20 miles per hour while hanging from an iron bar by your knees 25 feet above the ground. You'll follow that with a backflip."
It sounds like the kind of stunt that would make Spiderman's palms sweaty, but with a tutorial, practice on a low bar and instructions delivered in mid-flight, most students get at least that far.
The second half of the lesson is the most daunting—and also the most rewarding. In addition to soaring backward through the air, students learn to transfer from one swing to another by grabbing the arms of trapeze pros. Though the routine is more technical—it involves "pumping" to gain momentum—it's an intuitive next step and, again, almost everyone sticks the transition. Lessons are about two hours long and, by the end, first-timers feel a little like pros themselves.
Safety, naturally, is paramount. One of the most obvious features of Fly Boise's rig is a nylon net stretched five feet above the ground. If everything goes right, everyone ends up in the net at some point in his or her routine. Students are issued a safety harness at the beginning of the class, which is hooked to safety lines from the moment they start climbing the ladder to the platform to when they crawl off the net at the end.
Lessons begin with the harrowing prospect of using the trapeze and quickly become routines punctuated by literally falling into the arms of a member of Murphy's teaching corps. At any given time, one of them is ushering people to the ladder, guiding others on the platform and helping people off the net.
There's a moment in the second half of the lesson when Murphy tells students to arch their back, look at the horizon and search out an instructor's waiting hands. Below is the ground and the mall parking lot. Above is the blue sky. The forces of gravity and upward momentum are in stasis and, for that fraction of a second, these four things—asphalt and atmosphere, downward pull and upward swing—are in tension with each other.
From somewhere seemingly above even the sky, a pair of arms reach out to grab the student's, and the most intimidating part of the routine when it was described becomes as easy as reaching out and taking hold.