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Trapeze school in Watertown offers novices a chance to fly

WATERTOWN — It is 20 feet up to the thin red board that serves as a launch pad for the flying trapeze. But the mental space in which the mind does its gymnastics is boundless, always reaching the same end: This is a bad idea.

Never mind the trained instructors with harness lines and the small troupe of cheering classmates. Never mind the safety net, 8 feet off the ground.

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Trapeze is not meant for novices; fear is. At least until the aspiring fliers let go of everything but the bar.

“You get to be Peter Pan,” said Eileen Frazer, 65, of Portsmouth, N.H. “You never have to grow up, and you fly through the air.”

In a field straddling Watertown and Waltham, a new trapeze school is teaching potential circus performers and stressed-out 9-to-5 workers how to release and soar. It is one of a few such schools in the area, including one in Brattleboro and another in Reading.

Most students at Revolution Trapeze are not acrobats, but the school’s owners say they have about a 90 percent success rate in getting people to perform basic maneuvers after one class.

Eileen Frazer, of Portsmouth, N.H. flies through the air at Gore Place in Waltham, Mass.

Zack Wittman for The Boston Globe

Eileen Frazer, of Portsmouth, N.H. flew through the air at Gore Place in Waltham, Mass.

“Beginner trapeze is like a giant game of ‘Simon Says,’ ” said Jon Wells, co-owner of the school.

‘You get to be Peter Pan. You never have to grow up, and you fly through the air.’

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New students have to focus and listen to instructors at all times, he said. Physical fitness is not especially important. Technical knowledge is irrelevant.

Rich Ridolfo, another co-owner of Revolution Trapeze, said he has taught people ranging in age from 2 to the mid-80s. He started taking trapeze classes five years ago in California, though he describes himself as the “least athletic person on the planet.”

“Anyone who has gone to a circus looks at it and says, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. I could never do that,’ ” he said.

Wells, who got into circus performing as a student at the University of New Hampshire in 2002, opened Revolution Trapeze in June along with Ridolfo after a two-year search for a site. They are still looking for an indoor facility, but for now, they said, the field behind historic Gore Place will do.

They have a custom trapeze rig, which Wells said cost about $30,000, a red trailer, a canopy tent, and little else. Students pull their cars onto the grass, and — depending on skill level — grab a harness before climbing 20 feet on a narrow ladder to the trapeze bar.

They are almost always terrified, which instructors say is probably the appropriate response.

“I fought MMA [mixed-martial arts] professionally, and I was a little scared up there,” said Mark Raposo, a brawny 33-year-old from Revere who wore an X-Men T-shirt to class one recent weekend.

“Fear is healthy,” said Wendy Kinal, a Revolution Trapeze instructor. “You need it to be safe.”

New students hang their toes off the edge of the platform and wait, their bodies tense with what-ifs. When the instructor yells, “Hop,” they jump. A thin white bar is the only thing left to hold onto.

Brendan Asquith, 31, a sixth-grade math and science teacher in Chelmsford, recalled swinging from tree limbs as a child.

“This would have been my dream when I was 10,” he said.

Ashley Asquith, 27, Brendan’s wife, caught on quickly to the program. Her trick, she said, was to “just zone out and do the commands.”

A single beginner’s class lasts about two hours and costs $49. Instructors show new students how to hang from the bar by their knees and how to dismount. By the end of the class, most people manage to swing up to a veteran acrobat, who catches them while hanging from a bar.

Both Asquiths successfully completed two catches in their first session.

More advanced students, such as Frazer, perform trickier maneuvers and catches. She first tried trapeze about 30 years ago during a family vacation in the Bahamas. After a long hiatus, Frazer said, she now goes about once a week.

The catch — “like getting that Olympic gold medal” — might be the best part, she said. Or maybe it is the release.

“Whatever stuff is going on in your life, you have to let go of it,” she said. Sometimes, Frazer said, she can feel herself shedding burdens on the bar.

“I just relax and fly,” she said.

After her last successful catch on a recent Sunday, Frazer paced and glistened with sweat.

“I’ve often said I should wear one of those heart rate monitors,” she said. “It must be like 250 right now.”

Yet she remained oddly calm and soon was sitting, tired and drained by another day on the ropes. Just one move remained, Frazer said.

“I’ll probably go home and have a cold beer.”

Ashley Asquith performed a back flip at Gore Place in Waltham, Mass.

Zack Wittman for The Boston Globe

Ashley Asquith performed a back flip at Gore Place in Waltham, Mass.

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zachary.sampson
@globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @ZackSampson.
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