I’ve Spent ~$15K On Trapeze And I Regret Nothing

by Jennifer Kimball

It’s Monday, which means this evening my fiance will be hanging upside down from a bar while I hang from his hands in various poses. It’s Wednesday, which means I’ll be climbing a ladder more than 20 feet up to a platform so I can grab a trapeze bar and swing myself across a huge room to a catcher hanging from another trapeze bar. It’s Saturday, which means a long drive to Baltimore where I can stand inside of what appears to be a giant aluminum hula hoop and spin around to the best of my ability.

My financial vice is that I spend more on circus lessons each month than I do on rent. Not by a dramatic amount, but by a good $50–100. I suppose that this would all be easier to justify if I was investing in a future career move or if I was a trapeze savant. But, I am not; I’m actually a slow and nervous learner. Yet I’ve been spending more on trapeze than rent for more than two years now with no intention of stopping.

Flying trapeze is one of the more expensive hobbies you can pick up. Classes where I live run up to $59 for two hours with 10 students. What started innocently enough — one time, one class, one indulgent Sunday — quickly grew into a full-fledged obsession. Now, if I’ve not taken a class for a week (or “flown” in a week), I start to almost crave flight, those weightless moments I’ve learned to create.

My hobby has expanded as well, from just flying trapeze to trampoline (necessary to progress in flying; you have to learn to land safely in various positions) to static doubles trapeze to cyr wheel. Side notes: all these videos are of people far, far, far more skilled than I am, but hey, aspirations!

There are two kinds of students: bucket listers and frequent flyers. I’m very much the latter, though I expected to be the former when I started. Now I fly one to two times per week. Bucket listers are those who want to fly once to cross it off a bucket list, or are trying trapeze as part of a bachelorette party or a milestone birthday, etc. They are often shocked to learn that frequent flyers exist.

I still get a bit prickly when bucket listers ask, “But how can you afford it!?” But it’s not actually an unfair question. The answer is so mundane, though: I’m lucky with regard to expenses (cheap rent, no debt), I earn enough to have money left over for recreation, and I prioritize these classes above all other “fun” expenses. Essentially, I don’t drink. My other main hobby is reading, and the library is my best friend. I do save money in multiple retirement accounts, a mortgage account, and an emergency savings account; I’m absurd, but I’m not irresponsible. Again, a lot is because I was fortunate enough to be able to live at home and only pay instate tuition for college, and I paid off my student loans before finding trapeze.

I originally planned to calculate how much I’ve spent on trapeze and circus arts over the years, but I quickly realized that would be both very difficult and sort of depressing. It’s got to be more than $10K. It’s easier to talk about a typical week. I buy classes in bulk, so I get a 20% discount (thank goodness) on the rate mentioned above, and weekdays are cheaper than weekends. Thus, a super light week would look like this:

+ One static trapeze class — $32
+ One flying trapeze class — $44

A more typical week might involve two flying classes, or open gym ($10 to practice static trapeze), and a cyr wheel workshop ($22) added to that base rate above. It would be rare to spend $152 in one week, but it’s not unheard of.

Then there are the additional expenses, like booty-shorts and workout wear, funky socks and fishnets, grips, show costumes, and transportation to and from classes (sometimes Uber-ing back from cyr wheel because it is a very late workshop, for example). Then there are special “aerial retreat weekends” and Club Med vacations (they have flying trapeze classes!). All right, maybe it’s closer to $15K …

So, given the expense, why do I do it? Because I love it, because it keeps me sane, because it’s my creative outlet, because it’s my community, because it’s part of my identity now. I am deathly afraid of heights. My first year of flying was dominated by intense fear. I’m still a bit afraid, but it is worth it. I started flying after a personal trauma. Flying became a way to heal, to learn to trust again — first others, eventually myself.

Circus classes take you pretty far outside the ordinary Washington, DC, social scene. I often hear complaints that DC is stuffy, superficial, pretentious, or boring; you really do not find any of that in the aerial/circus world.

I met my fiancé through a flying trapeze workshop. We fly together, and we are static trapeze doubles partners. Basically, he hangs from the bar and then I hang from him. For one warm-up move that we do, he does what’s called catch-lock, which is a particularly secure way to hang by your knees, while I stand underneath, he grabs my wrists, and I invert into an upside-down split in the air. We will do a static doubles act at our wedding in lieu of a first dance. I’m not sure if we’re good doubles partners because we have good communication, or if doubles has helped our communication as a couple, but regardless, sharing aerial arts with him brings me a lot of joy.

I sometimes feel a bit ridiculous when I think of the costs, but I have no regrets. I know that I am very, very lucky that I can make this work financially. I owe so very much to flying trapeze, aerial arts, and my circus community.

This piece is part of a series examining our financial vices.

Jenn lives in Washington, DC with her fiance and their bunny. When not hanging upside down, she works in data and human rights.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.