Swinging on trapezes over Manhattan

July 20, 2012

By Lee Celano

Swinging upside down on a trapeze above Manhattan, Josh Cohen gains enough height to catch the “flyer.” He calls out “Listo!” meaning he is ready. “Hep!” Cohen shouts to Greg Cooper, the signal for him to let go of the fly bar and launch out for Cohen’s hands. The catch is made. After swinging back twice, Cooper lets go, turns in mid air and grabs the bar, completing the “return.”

Trapeze School New York is located on a rooftop at Pier 40 on the Hudson River. Since 2002, students of all ages learn trapeze maneuvers with the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan as a backdrop. Twice a week, the staff and advanced performers like Cohen and Cooper practice well into the night honing their technique and style.

The majority of the school’s clients are city-dwellers looking for a unique form of recreation. For Mark Hopkins, a senior vice president at Fleishman-Hillard, his first time flying was “fantastic, really fun.” Veteran Josh Cohen, an insurance broker by day, started his life on the trapeze performing at a Club Med in 1999 and has stuck with it through career and city changes. He spends a couple nights a week flying and catching with his wife, Katrina. Some of the regulars perform part time in circuses, and former students have landed jobs with major companies like Cirque Du Soleil.

I encountered the school while driving, just after sunset, and watched the performers silhouetted against the sky. I brought the story idea to Reuters and spent two days shooting it. As a rock climber, I found a lot in common with the folks at the school. Although climbers are usually protected by ropes, and trapezists by nets, there is the ever present fear of falling. Dangerous or not, a fall feels like failure. My climbing experience also helped make the staff comfortable with me shooting from the launch platform– secured by my own harness and gear. From the perch, I was able to get the right angle to frame the performers against the New York skyline.

It was a real thrill to watch the tricks and experience the camaraderie among the trapeze artists. They asked me to come back and try it for myself, and I think I will.

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