A day on the flying trapeze

Published on July 7, 2012

Imagine standing on a platform 24 feet in the air. You lean out and grip onto a bar, allowing yourself to swing into the sky. All you can hear is the sound of the commands: “Legs together, knee hook, swing!”

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Trust me, it isn’t.

After spending a morning with the crew at Acro-Adix flying trapeze, I learned that aerial acrobatics is far more accessible than it looks.

Many times I have driven by the outdoor trapeze on Thorburn Road in St. John’s and wondered if someone with no gymnastics background — in my case, nothing but summers in soccer under my belt — can really be a flyer.

Once I stepped off the platform and performed a knee hang/backflip dismount on my first try, I realized it was possible.

OK, maybe I didn’t ace the backflip part on the first run, but the rest came easily because I knew one thing: no matter what, they wouldn’t let me fall.

In fact, the word “fall” doesn’t even exist in the Acro-Adix vocabulary.

“We call ‘fall’ the F-word, so we don’t like to use the F-word here,” said Josh Munden, who started the company with his wife, Daniela, in 2006.

A former Cygnus gymnast, Josh managed the circus program at Club Med in the Turks and Caicos in 2002, where he met Daniela, a native of Brazil trained in acrobatics, dance and capoeira, a Brazilian martial art.

The couple started Acro-Adix in Whistler, B.C., before they decided to move the school to Josh’s home province two years later.

The process of getting the outdoor facility up and running has been full of twists and turns for the company, including challenges from the city over safety concerns.

“It took five city members to come up here and actually stand under the net and watch what happens before realizing this is ridiculously safe,” Josh said. “It’s actually safer than going on a swing set. You can’t fall here, and if you do fall, I’ve got the biggest hammock in North America.”

Students are attached to safety lines from the time they step onto the ladder to the moment they crawl off the safety net.

Physical demonstrations are also performed for first-time flyers so they can get a sense of what they have to do, and can try out their tricks on a practice bar before going on the trapeze.

“It’s still very visual,” Daniela said, pointing to their five-year-old daughter, Luna, who gave us a demonstration. Their other daughter, eight-month-old Viva, has already taken to the Jolly Jumper as acrobat-in-training No. 2.

Acro-Adix also enlists the help of assistants Victoria Howard and Jonathan Butler, both passionate flyers who say they have the best summer job.

Jonathan, 23, first tried the trapeze when he was 20 years old, having no previous experience in acrobatics, and now helps coach classes and pulls safety lines.

Victoria, on the other hand, trained in rhythmic gymnastics until she was 15. Now 22, she works for Acro-Adix by assisting in the classes and performing in shows.

Josh hopes Acro-Adix, as the only trapeze school east of Quebec, will be the place from which companies like Cirque du Soleil recruit.

He says gymnasts and acrobats in the province have been starved for an outlet, whereas people who train in places such as Toronto and Montreal can find several areas where their skills can transfer, like doing stunt work on a movie set.

“It’s only since things like ‘Republic of Doyle’ came here that Newfoundlanders have that opportunity,” Josh said. “I’m not saying we’re making stuntmen or Cirque du Soleil performers, but we’re definitely giving people a solid background with a solid skill set to be able to do these things confidently. And in a fun, controlled, safe environment.”

In addition to teaching flying trapeze, Acro-Adix participates in events throughout the province, including the Mount Pearl Frosty Festival and Holy Heart’s Move Week, where they put on aerial arts workshops for kids.

“The number of acts is countless, but what we’ve specialized in teaching is all forms of aerial trapeze, meaning single trapeze, double trapeze, swinging, triple trapeze, bungee trapeze, Spanish web, silks, and hoop,” Josh said.

Another aspect of their business is rigging for concerts at Mile One, including Cirque du Soleil, as well as choreographing local theatre productions.

“We want these theatre companies to realize that we have the people and talent and the acts so that when they come to us and have a ‘Peter Pan’ idea or an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ idea, these things aren’t unheard of anymore,” Josh said.

Although Acro-Adix has progressed over the past few years, running an outdoor facility has put a lot of strain on the school, especially in St. John’s where the wind is frequent and the summers short, meaning there are many days when they can’t operate.

The school is currently partnered with Campia gymnastics, where they hold aerial acrobatics classes at their indoor gym. To get the trapeze indoors, however, they need to find a space that’s 35 to 40 feet high.

“It’s a crime, because it’s an awesome piece of equipment and it should be indoors and we should be able to do this all year round,” Josh said. “This is an activity that a lot of people in the city really like.”

People who try flying for the first time can expect an adrenaline rush. I was skeptical when, after climbing the ladder, Victoria told me the hard part was over, but it really was. All that comes next is an exhilarating flight, and who wouldn’t like that?

As the search for the indoor gym continues, Acro-Adix will keep on flying at their outdoor location, with summer aerial classes Monday to Friday for both kids and adults, as well as Saturday’s “Fun Fly Day” — an open class for anyone who wishes to participate.

For more information and a

complete schedule of classes, visit www.acro-adix.com.