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Circus Arts Conservatory students fly to new heights

Couple bonds over love of teaching CAC recreational flying trapeze classes.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. August 22, 2018
Dallena Shelton performs one of her favorite tricks.
Dallena Shelton performs one of her favorite tricks.
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Your waist is cinched tight with the belt, making it hard to breathe as you climb the ladder 23 feet above the ground. 

Once you get to the top, the platform wobbles beneath your feet. You grab the bar, the instructor says “go,” and you jump.

“If you can hold yourself on the bar, we can teach you the rest,” says Circus Arts Conservatory flying trapeze instructor Andres Leon.

Although CAC has held recreational flying trapeze classes since 2011, they’re gaining traction under the instruction of Leon and his girlfriend, Jacqueline Taylor.

Leon and Taylor moved to Sarasota two years ago from Boca Raton, when they took over as head and assistant instructors, respectively, for the classes.

“I kind of adapted it to what they teach in the arena and made it our own lesson,” Leon says of his instruction style.

Leon started catching flying trapeze at 15 years old in the Sarasota High School Sailor Circus. After high school, he learned how to be an instructor to make money on the side He describes teaching trapeze as a dream come true, because the sport gives him never-ending joy. That joy is what motivated Leon to leave medical school to become a full-time instructor. 

“It could be the most stressful day of my life and the first glimpse of somebody flying for the first time — or even returning flyers  — just being there for them is a pleasure of mine,” Leon says.

Jacqueline Taylor and Andres Leon
Jacqueline Taylor and Andres Leon

When Taylor met Leon two years ago, she didn’t know flying trapeze could be a recreational sport. Although she has a fear of heights, Taylor says something made her want to try it.

Taylor was good enough to become an instructor after a year of practicing with Leon, and it’s now an important aspect of their lives and relationship.

“It’s something special we get to share,” Leon says.

Leon and Taylor also share a more specific passion for teaching beginners, such as 10-year-old Dallena Shelton.

Shelton has made advances in the sport since her first of ten lessons with Leon and Taylor. Shelton continues going to class because she hopes to be in the circus someday.

“It’s really fun when you swing,” Shelton said. “And then you feel like a really strong person when you make the catch.”

She says she wasn’t that scared when she first braved the platform, and she remains fearless, even as she learns new tricks.

Despite the danger of the activity, Leon says this fearless attitude is the norm amongst his younger students. 

Dallena Shelton gets caught by the catcher at the end of practice.
Dallena Shelton gets caught by the catcher at the end of practice.

“Kids don’t really have a thought of mortality whatsoever — they have zero fear, they go for it,” Leon says. “Adults are like ‘No, I can fall here, here and here.’”

Flying trapeze is a full-body workout. Swinging in the air uses muscles that aren’t used on a regular basis, from hanging on the bar, to keeping your legs and toes pointed straight. Because of these motions, it works your core, hamstrings and quads, upper body  and flexibility.

“This does tend to be a little bit more intense of a circus discipline,” Leon says. “If you want to be a flyer, it does take a lot of upper-body strength, a lot of conditioning, but not every flyer started out amazing.”

Leon and Taylor hope to advance their repeat flyers and open up more advanced classes. They say most of the time, once a person experiences flying trapeze, they come back for more.


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