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Adjacent to long-standing restaurant Juan in a Million, Trapeze Texas' open lot saddles up against the sidewalk of the busy street. Passersby link their fingers through the fence and utter “wows” and “ahhs” as thrill-seekers jump off a platform 22 feet above.
Nestled between a vegan bakery and a small home along East Cesar Chavez Street sits Trapeze Texas.
Adjacent to long-standing restaurant Juan in a Million, the open lot saddles up against the sidewalk of the busy street. Passersby link their fingers through the fence and utter “wows” and “ahhs” as thrill-seekers jump off a platform 22 feet above.
It’s that foot traffic and proximity to Downtown Austin that led owners Theresa Kirby and Russell Codona Torretto to jump on the available lease months ago.
The area, which they said now feels like home, has undergone serious changes in recent years. Previously the neighborhood was old and home to primarily Latino residents. Now hip bars, restaurants, art galleries and even a cat café have begun to take over the area.
For the neighborhood’s residents, watching from their front porches as people propel through the air doesn't shock them much.
“We were talking to some neighbors and they said, ‘We were actually more surprised by a sale down the street than we were about a flying trapeze rig,’” owner Kirby said.
The business may not come as a surprise to their neighbors, but potential customers might be surprised by what the business can do.
On top of walk-in services and private parties, Torretto claims to have the only trapeze academy in the state of Texas that can train students to “the highest professional circus level and find you work professionally in circuses worldwide.”
The nearly seven-year-old business is not the only aerial arts school in Austin. Sky Candy, Four Elements Aerial & Creative Movement and Blue Lapis Light are a few examples of schools in Austin that train in circus arts. Those businesses offer classes including aerial silks, stationary trapeze and even pole dancing.
Trapeze Texas stands apart as a school that offers training in the flying trapeze.
Kirby and Torretto also make and install all of their own rigging – the complex arrangement of pipes, platforms and netting that trapeze artists rely on. They occasionally will sell rigging to companies across the world for upwards of $10,000.
For many years, Torretto's been performing and touring with different troupes and circuses, including the Ringling Bros. One mentor he eventually met along the way, who is now a manager within the Ringling Bros., taught him to teach people who are not circus-trained -- or what they call “domestic people" -- how to perform the flying trapeze.
The following video shows two routines taught at Trapeze Texas -- the "swing" and the "catch":
Kirby was one of those “domestic people” when she met Torretto during one of her monthly trips to Austin for training as a comptroller and enforcement officer in Victoria, Texas.
“Every day (in Austin) I would try to do something I wouldn’t be able to do in Victoria,” she said.
Once she wrapped her fingers around the bar, she was hooked.
“You’re so overwhelmed with the trapeze and holding onto the bar that you kind of forget about your stress and everything else that you’re worried about in your life,” Kirby said. “… I guess working as an enforcement officer wasn’t for me, and I quit that week.”
Now, Kirby and Torretto work together as co-owners of Trapeze Texas and perform together as a part of the Flying Codona’s troupe – a group named after Torretto’s family name. About seven members make up the Flying Codona’s, which Torretto said is one of four professional flying trapeze troupes in the world. The troupe has performed in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Turks and Caicos, Dubai, the Caribbean and all over the United States.
When they’re not traveling the world, they’re bringing the circus to Austin one courageous soul at a time.
From their most recent location in Dripping Springs, the duo was set to open their Cesar Chavez location on Dec. 10, but some technicalities kept them from opening their doors.
Over the span of several weeks, they said part of each day was spent at the city’s planning office trying to determine which permits were needed. At some point, they said they were told they needed to construct a permanent bathroom only to be told later on that was not the case. Many headaches later, they were finally given the green light to open in February.
Now, the bleachers alongside the rigging fill with anxious first-timers and seasoned acrobats.
On a recent bustling Saturday, KVUE's Shawna Reding visited the business to watch on as people took the plunge.
One group of women dressed in tu-tus learned the ropes as part of their celebration of bride-to-be Tawna McCoy.
Their fingers trembled as they signed the required waiver and took a seat in the bleachers, linking eyes with each other and laughing nervously. They were then called onto the multi-colored mats to stretch and do some practice rounds on a low-hanging bar that sort of resembles “monkey bars” from elementary school.
Kirby and Torretto then began waving people up the winding ladder one at a time, starting with McCoy and eventually convincing the least excited of the group, Jodi Miller.
"I was petrified," Miller said. But she said in the spirit of celebrating one of her best friends, she decided to face her fear of heights.
In what must have felt like an eternity, each of her feet alternately found the next step in the ladder until she finally grabbed onto a pole on the see-through platform.
“Don’t look down,” Kirby most likely said as she latched safety ropes onto the tight belt cinching her waist.
From there, everything sped up. After all, the longer she stays on the platform, the more likely she is to psych herself out. And per the company’s policy, once their customer's feet make their way up the ladder, there’s no way down but from the bar off the pedestal.
“The first time is the most adrenaline-packed time,” Kirby said. “Your heart’s pumping, you don’t hear much of what we say at all.”
Miller was then instructed to inch her toes over the edge of the pedestal, with her hands grasping onto the bar. Down below, Torretto -- who typically shouts orders as coach – tells her to jump into what they call the rabbit hole just beyond the platform.
“People who are afraid of heights at first, I’m so happy that they try," Kirby said. "That they just try to jump off the pedestal. The rest of it, I tell everybody, is just bonus. If you do any hang trick, do a backflip, that’s great. But jumping off – most people won’t even try that.”
And while Miller didn’t do those tricks, Torretto said a feeling washes over like nothing else when people jump.
"Once you grab that bar and start swinging, there's nothing else in the world that encroaches on that space you're in," Torretto said. "... Once you're in that space, you can't fake it. It's real. You're in that space right then and there. You can't fake no part of the flying trapeze."
At one point during the bachelorette party, McCoy fell to the netting from the swinging bar above and shouted, “I’m joining the circus!”
A joke – but not entirely.
“I am not kidding, I would do the circus,” said.
While joining the circus is still up in the air, she said it’s an experience she will never forget.
“Who can honestly say, ‘I’ve done trapeze flying’? That is my goal in life – to later be old and shaking in my rocking chair going, ‘Yup, I did that. I did that.’ And now trapeze flying is off my bucket list,” she said. “That is hella cool.”
All photos by Shawna Reding