Give Matt Viverito a flying trapeze rig and 25 feet of air, and he'll make it look good. His moves look effortless as he releases into somersault after somersault. His fall becomes a weightless dance — bouncing once off the net, throwing his limbs to the other side of his body, stabilizing in air — before landing safely on his back.
But put an out-of-shape Daily RFT reporter in the same spot, and you'll get something infinitely less elegant and with 100 percent more hyperventilating and cursing.
Last week, Circus Harmony invited us to try out its brand-new Trapeze Center under the Union Station train shed, where the public can take trapeze lessons for the length of the summer. So after I strapped a Go-Pro camera to my chest and Viverito, the Trapeze Center's 23-year-old manager, tethered a safety harness on my waist, I ascended the 25-foot ladder to meet my high-flying fate.
Circus Harmony has been around since 2001, when Jessica Hentoff, founder the youth circus troupe St. Louis Arches, sought to create a "social circus school." She says the proceeds from the spot at Union Station will help fund shuttle buses for underserved kids who want to take classes at Hentoff's main circus school in the basement of the City Museum.
"This rig is recreational," she says, pointing out its features, the brand-new ropes and cables, the ones Viverito uses to fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Hentoff herself has been performing and teaching trapeze for nearly 40 years. "It's fun, but it's also fitness." She laughs, adding, "You'll see."
She was right. Even with the safety harness' rope and pulley system to steady me, my flailing attempts to swing my legs over the bar, hang upside down and dismount — all while swinging to and fro — was much harder exercise than what my pizza-nourished body is used to.
"Trapeze is also about personal empowerment," Hentoff tells me after I extract myself from the net and wriggle out of the safety harness. "Since time in memorial, humans want to fly. And this is it."
Though I suspect that I won't be getting any calls from the Ringling Brothers over my trapeze "performance," I can't deny the sheer adrenaline rush — especially that triumphant moment when I finally hooked my knees over the bar and dangled my arms for a few seconds before dropping in a satisfied, sore heap on the net. It may not have been pretty, but I felt great.