Blog By Joe Summers, Visiting Instructor For Flying Trapeze
How to: Flying Trapeze Swing! So, you want to enter the art of swinging on the Flying Trapeze? A beautiful sight when done correctly, the swing is a complicated mixture of delicate motions, muscular control, power, timing, and, most of all, technique. The swing is to a trapeze artists what a squat is to a powerlifter: a skill that requires constant honing, a foundation for success and longevity, and often times a baseline for prosperity in the higher levels of the art. As with any mastered skill, however, the trapeze artist must begin somewhere. I am here to outline the basic flow, order of operations, and positions needed to begin learning the art of the swing.
Section 1: the Take Off
Although not the flashiest portion of the swing, a proper departure from the platform is, in my experience, often the most important part of the swing. Due to the precise timing required for trapeze, as it is limited to the length of our pendulum, every action is affected heavily by the action immediately before it, i.e. if I have a bad or sloppy take off, my next motion will not have had the proper setup, and will be limited in effect and power, and so on down the line. This portion of our practice cannot be overlooked!
The first step to a successful take off is the flyer’s jump timing. The order of the jump should be, “jump, hand”. This means that the flyer should bend the knees, dropping the bar, and then jump, tossing it back straight up into the air with the bar hand. At the peak of that jump they should place their second hand, the one holding onto the platform, onto the bar. The goal here is to reach the bar with second hand just at the peak of the jump, so as to be prepared for the next motion before the flyer starts falling back down into the pendulum of the swing.
This, as with all following motions, should be done with active muscles. This means that the flyer should “stay tight” in their muscular structure, trying to engage and extend through the body, so as to be in control. Remember, the tighter you can fly, the more you will be able to dictate what your body does in the air/the more control you will have.
Section 2: the Sweep
As the flyer departs the board, you will notice that they very quickly “sweep” or kick their legs backward. The goal with this motion is to maximize leverage. Remember: we are attempting to manipulate a pendulum, so using our motions in preparation for the next motion is important. This large sweep backward with the legs will allow the flyer to kick forward with more momentum and maximize height in the next motion.
As the flyer places the second hand on the bar from the Take Off, they can begin sweeping back. I find that an explosive and tight sweep does more good than a sweep of equal power over a longer period of time. As the flyer is sweeping backward, it will benefit them to remember that they are not simply kicking backward, but rather reaching long through their toes and trying to extend down and backward, as if their feet were moving in an upside down arch. This intention with the body maximizes our exertion of force within the swing. I like to use the metaphor of a river: The swing, like a river, has a current to it. If I were to kick my foot into a river I would simply make a splash, generating little force and not gaining the current of the river. If I were to dip my foot into the river and reach into the current, however, I would find that my foot, and any force I applied with my legs, would be amplified by the current and generate much more force. If that metaphor doesn’t work for you, then imagine the swing in its physical properties: A pendulum swinging back and forth. At no point does the pendulum simply swing straight backward, rather it is pulled downward and maintains outward force on the cable it is attached to, increasing as it reaches the bottom of its swing. This is a very helpful thing to remember when learning the swing as a whole, not just the Sweep.
As the flyer reaches the end of their sweep, the body, reaching long through its muscles, becomes filled with elastic energy. As it stretches long through the toes, the muscles, much like a stretched rubber band, are filled with the desire to contract, thus releasing the energy. This is where the flyer will generate most of their power as the kick forward, and this is where we meet the Force Out.
Section 3: the Force Out
The Force Out is the source of many a headache, but when properly executed, results in a large gain of height in the swing. This action is performed on the way up the front end of the swing and involves kicking forward with the body, around the bar, up toward the sky, and then extending outward so as to maximize potential height gain in the swing. Remember: Stay tight and reach long. The goal of the maneuver is the get the hips close to bar as the flyer travels upward. In doing so, the flyer shortens the pendulum of the swing, which makes it accelerate. Through that acceleration, the flyer then “forces” the momentum “out” of their body by kicking their feet upward and then extends the rest of their body through the same trajectory, ending finally, with straight arms, at the peak of the swing, in line with the cables of the trapeze bar. This maneuver is very important to finish just as the flyer reaches the peak of the swing, not too early, not too late. This will take time.
Disclaimer: This portion of the swing is the most physically demanding. It requires strength as well as finesse, explosive power as well as keen muscular control. This maneuver often takes months or years to learn and perform in a productive fashion, and is constantly changing from flyer to flyer, from day to day. The best thing for a flyer who is new to the swing to do is to not worry so much about about power, and to focus on technique. There is not a bad word to be said about using time off the rig to condition your body’s strength. Every bit counts!
Section 4: the Hollow
The Hollow may seem, to the naked eye, as a simple kick forward, but it is a move filled more with finesse and a sense of timing than most other components of the swing. The size, timing, and duration of the Hollow is heavily dependent on the flyers flexibility and power in their Sweep and the height of their swing. Some flyers have such little hollows that they barely even exist, some kick forward with all of their might. It truly varies from flyer to flyer. The purpose, however, is always the same: to give the flyer extra power to add to their Sweep.
The Hollow is a preparatory movement aimed at maximizing power in the proceeding Sweep, while minimizing the amount of muscular strength that need be exerted to do so. It is performed by simply leaning the body forward from the shoulders, as if winding up before a kick backward. The tricky part of the Hollow is knowing when to initiate it: Hollow too early and you will most likely get pulled out of your Seven position (this will make sense in just a bit), too late and you run the risk of hitting your tailbone on the platform. These issues will be revisited in the next few paragraphs.
Section 5: the Sweep.
We are again here at the Sweep! This Sweep is essentially the same as the first, only it is while traveling backward. This is a moment when the flyer may start to notice if their Hollow was early or late. Too early and they will find it difficult to extend fully, too late and they will not be able to harness as much power from the swing for they will be traveling more upward than back. The flyer should make sure to be engaging their lower back and butt muscles when doing this! They will help them maintain control and power.
Section 6: the Seven.
The Seven is so named for the body takes on the shape of the number “7”. This movement is found at the back peak of the Swing, over the platform. As the flyer is finishing their Sweep, they begin to kick forward. This kick is performed with the whole body, not just the feet. As the flyer begins to kick forward, they should engage their butt and lower abdominal muscles so as to pull the whole body toward the bar (without bending the arms). This is all happening while traveling upward. The flyer will also find it very useful to lean backward slightly and look up and over the bar to keep the chest pressed forward. All of these motions bring the hips closer to the bar, and as we learned with the Force Out, this shortens the pendulum causing the swing to accelerate and the flyer to gain height. It is the second area in the swing where height can be gained, and much like the Force Out, it has much to do with the hips.This is also where the flyer may notice if their Hollow was on time. Often the flyer will Hollow too early, and this causes them to start their Seven too early. When this happens, they are initiating the movement before they are traveling upward and can find that it requires much more muscling to hold the hips close to the bar. Assuming all has gone well, the flyer may either enter a trick or begin the swing sequence over again.
These are my two cents on the swing. It is a process and requires patience and dedication. It does not have the instant gratifications that some of the tricks on learns in their first few classes, but, just like many other things in life, it is just that much more rewarding when you have discovered something new and gained physical strength. I hope that this article helped you along in your trapeze journey, and if not, well I hope you at least enjoyed the read! Or you have even appetite for more? Then check out our Circus Camps!