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In the backwoods of McLean, that most affluent Virginia ’burb where The Agency teaches its rookies to snoop, a wholly novel institute of higher learning has recently been established: a flying trapeze school.
Laurent Givry, a French national now living in Montgomery County, is the founder and daring young headmaster of the Circus Arts Workshop. For as little as $20 per two-hour lesson, Givry and his assistants will show you how to fly through the air with greater and greater ease.
Givry, 28, was never a fan of the circus while growing up in Toulouse in southwestern France. In fact, he was in his 20s before he’d even seen a trapeze in person. That first exposure to the trapeze came at a place more famous for swinging of a different sort.
“I was working as a sailing instructor for a Club Med resort,” Givry recalls. “At that resort they had a trapeze set up for the guests, and one day I decided to give it a try. From then on, I could not stop. Every day after work I would get in line to do it again, just like I was a guest. Day after day after day.”
Givry was so taken with the trapeze that he eventually went to his bosses at Club Med and asked to be moved to the swing shift. It just so happened that Givry’s request came at a time when trapeze setups were becoming a staple at all the firm’s resorts. Soon enough, Givry, whose 135-pound frame has the fat content of a Diet Coke, was showing singles the ropes all over Europe and South America. Getting to play Club Med’s Sultan of Swing, he admits with a sly chuckle, had many after-hours upsides.
“At all the Club Meds, the flying trapeze instructor is the playboy of the village,” Givry says.
Cushy as that position was, Givry tired of hanging out in exotic waterfront retreats year round. What’s more, the social benefits of the post became wholly unimportant after he married a fellow trapeze instructor from the resort. He left Club Med and moved to the D.C. area so his wife could be near her family. He took a job as a waiter to pay the bills. And he dreamed.
Givry’s initial post–Club Med business venture was his creation of East-Coast Trapeze Productions, a company that sells circus equipment, including full-size flying trapeze kits, to resorts and hotels. But even though that firm is still functioning, he never felt in the swing of things as a retailer. Givry kept going back to how much he enjoyed being on the trapeze, and to the feedback he received from his students while in Club Med’s employ.
“Everybody I ever worked with on the trapeze at Club Med loved it,” he says. “You see the look on their faces, the thrill.”
Problem was, there wasn’t anywhere to teach flying trapeze in the real world, and Givry certainly didn’t have the kind of money it would take to get such a plane off the ground. However, Michel Bigotti, a pal of Givry’s in the restaurant business, came up with the scratch and a hangout for Givry and his students: the front lawn of his house in one of McLean’s more bucolic neighborhoods.
“The neighbors don’t mind one bit,” Bigotti says of the gargantuan ropes-and-ladders setup (“as big as the one Barnum & Bailey uses,” boasts Givry) that leaves his property looking like a circus after the big top has been torn down. In Field of Dreams fashion, now that the flying trapeze has been built, people have been coming to the out-of-the-way academy, which Givry believes is the only one of its kind on the East Coast.
Sean Swartz, an ex-Marine who fancies himself something of a thrill-seeker, learned about the Circus Arts Workshop from a posting on the Internet. Swartz, 26, says he’s dabbled in a variety of “extreme” pastimes, but none that takes him to the emotional heights he hits during his in-air sessions under Givry’s watchful eye.
“I’ve done rock climbing, rappelling, scuba, and all kinds of things like that,” Swartz says. “But the trapeze is just a whole lot more fun. You can’t really put it in words, but when you’re out there on the bar, you do feel like you’re flying. No fooling.”
Not that the classes are in any way machismocentric. Laurie Glassman, a 47-year-old Washington attorney and avowed Givry devotee, says she was drawn to the trapeze for its aesthetic attributes.
“I’ve always been fascinated by sports and activities that require grace and precise body movements and timing, things like ice skating and gymnastics and ballet,” says Glassman, who attends classes with Givry twice a week. “And that’s all a part of trapeze, much more so than strength.”
After a reserved, absolutely lawyerly defense of her newest passion, Glassman finally concedes that the key to her flying trapeze jones is the head buzz that sailing from bar to bar gives her.
“When you first step off the board and start swinging down, that instant in time is much like going down the first hill on a roller coaster, only on the trapeze you’re not locked in place, and you’re not surrounded by heavy equipment,” she bubbles, her enthusiasm for the pastime growing more blatant with each syllable. “It’s just your hands and a bar, and that adds a real edge to the experience, to that little feeling in your stomach. It’s an incredible, incredible rush. You fly! It’s fabulous! It’s, well…”
Sensing that her interviewer will construe her zeal for the flying trapeze as dementia, Glassman, like a true aerial artist, catches herself, and her mood swings back to one more appropriate for a D.C. barrister.
“Listen, at my age, it’s not like I’m taking trapeze classes because I’m thinking of running away and joining the circus,” she declares.
“It’s just a very nice thing to have, right here in Washington.”—Dave McKenna