Dancer Teaches The Trapeze As Art Form

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Mikey Thomas and students on the trapeze at Movement Activities(Photo: Sam Hendren/WOSU)
Mikey Thomas and students on the trapeze at Movement Activities(Photo: Sam Hendren/WOSU)

Trapeze. The word conjures up images of high-flying acrobats doing daring feats of skill at the circus. But a Columbus man is exploring the art of the trapeze. And for the past two years he’s been teaching others about its beauty.

Trapeze instructor Mikey Thomas

Columbus Trapeze instructor Mikey Thomas. Photo: Sam Hendren/WOSU

Dancer, choreographer and aerial arts instructor Mikey Thomas starts every class with a thorough warm-up.

“Take your right leg. Lock it in, up near your sternum. Pull it up, pull it up, pull it up…”

It’s physically challenging work but that’s because using the trapeze is physically demanding. Thomas says most of the people who enroll in classes at Movement Activities want the rigors that trapeze work requires.

“The majority of them want a physical experience where they’re working out, they’re sweating, they’re getting into shape. The smaller percentage are actual professional performers here locally and they come in to maintain their body, maintain their artistic skills,” Thomas says.

After earning a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Dance and Choreography from Ohio State University, Thomas became a professional dancer in New York. He’s held various positions with Ballet Met in Columbus, and worked overseas in London and Taipei. A few years ago, he returned to Columbus and started teaching aerial dance. It’s a cousin to the circus arts, Thomas says. It’s a marriage, he says, between modern dance and the trapeze.

“There’s just been a real explosion of interest in it. You see it in major Las Vegas shows, Broadway shows, you see it in music videos, you see it in rock shows. I’m even beginning to see these circus arts in high school programs,” Thomas says.

Classes are held at 400 West Rich Street in the old warehouse that is now an artists’ colony. As students progress the training becomes more intense and participants’ bodies begin to change.

“They will tell you, ‘My shirts don’t fit.’ And the reason their shirts don’t fit is their back has gotten wider. Their shoulders have gotten larger, their biceps have gotten larger. This is difficult work but if you stick with it, it’s going to change something about you,” Thomas says.

Columbus dancer Cate Owens has been studying with Thomas for about a year. She says in the beginning the physical demands were almost overwhelming. But, Owens says:

“All of a sudden it just snapped. I was able to pull myself up on the bar, there was a definite climb to the mountain and then there was a plateau then you climb some more…you just keep getting stronger and stronger,” Owens says.

The half dozen trapezes here hang about six feet from the floor. That’s for safety and insurance purposes, Thomas says. Eventually he wants to do high-flying trapeze instruction, but that hasn’t stunted community interest. Thomas and several advanced students perform at various events when their schedules permit. Most, he says, want the opportunity to perform publicly.

Trapeze students practice six feet above the ground.

Trapeze students at Movement Activities practice six feet above the ground. Photo: Sam Hendren/WOSU

“I’m finding that everyone has this urge inside them to perform. So there’s some bud of artistic urge in there in everyone and I’m trying to draw that out,” Thomas says.

No problem for professional dancer Cate Owens who says she’s found a new home on the trapeze.

“I’ve just always wanted to be tall, get up high, do as much as I can dance- and performance-wise. And I’ve been doing it for about a year and I’m so at home up there. I love it,” Owens says.

Mikey Thomas hopes that at some point, Movement Activities will be involved in the certification of aerial artists. But the focus will remain on expanding the bounds of artistic dance.

“People just really seem to take to it differently than if you were to go in and take a dance class where there’s so much preconceived ideas about body type and skill level and gender and things like that,” Thomas says.

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