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St. Louis Circus Kids Enjoy Union Station Trapeze — And So Can You

Ari Maayan flies through the air with the greatest of ease, a daring young man on the flying trapeze — in the parking lot of St. Louis’ Union Station.

Credit Nancy Fowler
Ari Maayan

Maayan, 14, is the chief unicyclist with Circus Harmony, an organization with the goal of teaching kids circus skills and life lessons. He’s been with Circus for three years but on Wednesday, he enjoyed his first trapeze swing, complete with a back flip into the net below.

“It was really cool, it’s really like flying,” Maayan said.

Safety First

Maayan and a dozen other Circus Harmony kids took the trapezes for a test-drive in preparation for its public opening on Saturday — World Circus Day — which includes a show at noon.

But you don’t have to be a professional or a student to try it. A quick swing costs $20. An hour-and-a-half lesson is $60, with discounts for five or more. There’s no minimum age but an average 5-year-old should fit in the harness. The upper weight limit is around 210 pounds but it’s more about a customer’s level of fitness.

Credit Nancy Fowler
Michael Harry

As he biked around the Union Station parking lot, Michael Harry, 32, (left) surveyed the trapeze with skepticism. “It looks like it would be a lot of fun for the right person, but I’m not that person,” Harry said. “I don’t do heights.”

But 60-year-old Howard Mullen’s heart leapt at the prospect of trying out the trapeze. “I’ve been wanting to do that all my life,” he said. Although Mullen’s always been athletic, he thinks he’ll take a full class before he grabs the bar.

“I don’t want to break my neck on the first try,” Mullen said.

That’s highly unlikely, according to Trapeze School manager Matt Viverito. He’s quick to reassure the fearful that taking to the trapeze is very safe.

“We have state-of-the-art equipment, experienced line holders, and you’re always clipped to one, if not two carabiners to the safety line the whole time,” Viverito said.

Viverito compares the trapeze to other extreme sports, without the risk.

“Some people love bungee jumping or jumping out of airplanes, mountain-climbing, hang gliding,” Viverito said. “It scratches a similar itch but it’s its own unique feeling.”

‘People Think I’m a Daredevil’

Credit Jessica Hentoff

Grants from the Regional Arts Commission and the Daughters of Charity Foundation of St. Louis paid for the $30,000 equipment. It will remain at Union Station through October 19.

Circus Harmony artistic director Jessica Hentoff (top, right in 1985) is looking for a permanent, indoor home. High ceilings are a must, of course.

“Maybe a church, an airport hangar or an old warehouse,” Hentoff said.

The Trapeze School is insured, as are all such facilities across the country. But like Viverito, Hentoff’s not worried about accidents.

Hentoff has a history of performing stunts such as hanging from a bar while supporting another trapeze artist with a single foot.

Her daughter gets shot out of a cannon for a living.

So what does it take to scare her?

“Ziplines make me nervous because there's no net,” she said. “People think I’m a daredevil but I’m one of the most conservative people on the planet.”

Watch a Circus Harmony preteen try the trapeze.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.