It was the morning of the 4th of July, and my free-spirited 12-year-old was about as free as he’d ever been – flying through the air and literally becoming “the daring young man on the flying trapeze” at Fly School Circus Arts in Philadelphia. “You are my hero!” I said as he climbed down the ladder with a huge smile on his face. I think mine might have actually been bigger than his - it was a very proud momma moment. 

His first time up on the platform, he jumped off without hesitation, hooked the back of his legs on the swing, let go, and swung upside down. By the end of the two-hour session where he and a half-dozen other participants that morning were expertly instructed by owner Mary Kelly Rayel and her staff, he was reaching out to one of the instructors on another swing, grabbing hold and letting go of his own swing. I couldn’t believe how much he learned in just two hours. He was thrilled with his experience and had such a sense of accomplishment.

As far as summer experiences go, flying trapeze school is one of the more awesome ones. Fly School Circus Arts offers this experience to anyone physically able to do it – ages six and up. Rayel has been running regular classes at her North Philly location since the fall of 2013, and she’s been teaching and performing for 20 years. She started working in Circus arts after being accepted to Barnum and Bailey Clown College. Since then, she’s spent her life performing and instructing Circus skills and aerial acrobatics.

The set up for Fly School Circus is impressively eco-friendly. The trapeze is located in a vacant lot in Philadelphia and operates only during daylight hours from the spring to the fall. The trapeze uses no electricity, and there’s no building associated with the school that uses any either. Rayel doesn’t sell bottled water. Flyers who chose to bring their own in one-time use bottles can use the recycling bin on site.

The school is at the mercy of the weather. My son’s initial class was cancelled because the day was going to be too windy for it to be safe. Safety is emphasized at the school, and I never once felt my son was in any danger.

At Fly School Circus Arts, learning to fly is an activity that families can do together. The classes aren’t broken up into age groups. Kids and adults can learn together. I asked Rayel what the best part of teaching kids is.

“Kids set limitations for themselves the same way adults do, and through the flying trapeze they often find that they can do much more than they previously thought possible,” she told me.  

Showing people that they are capable of far more than they ever thought possible is what Rayel loves most about teaching the flying trapeze. She gets to challenge the limitations people have set for themselves and encourage them to think about their potential in a different way.

Why do most of her students choose to try the flying trapeze?

“Many people,” says Rayel, “just want to give it a try. They want to challenge themselves. Some people come as a group to have a collective experience. Fitness minded people come for a new physical/mental challenge. And, some have experienced a big change in their lives – health, marital status, employment - and wish to add to it.”

With the dog days of summer upon us and many families still facing several weeks before school begins again, flying trapeze lessons might be something to look into for an adventurous experience the whole family will never forget.

Fly School Circus Arts isn’t the only flying trapeze school in the country. If you’re not in the Philadelphia region, check out to find schools around the country and around the world. 

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