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Flying Through The Air On A Trapeze at Club Med

HUATULCO, Mexico -- Nothing to this trick, Reggie's smile seems to say as she steps off the platform in midair and grabs the bar.

She doesn't seem scared, not about being 40 feet above the ground, not about the crowd below watching her every move.

I'm so nervous I can barely watch. My daughter is swinging though the air feet-first from a circus trapeze! I know there's a safety net stretched 20-some feet beneath her, that she's tethered securely to a safety harness. I know the specially trained Club Med instructors are watching her carefully.

I'm more worried about her success than her safety, I realize. Like every challenge Reggie sets for herself -- like every parent watching a child attempt a new feat for the first time -- I want her to succeed.

This time I'm glad to tell you I'm able to sit back and enjoy my daughter's applause -- literally. The enthusiastic audience cheers and claps as Reggie flips around on the trapeze like a pro, jumps from the bar to the safety net to the ground, a big grin plastered on her flushed face.

``You should try it, Mom!'' she says enthusiastically.

Vacations, I think, watching her, may be the best time to do something extraordinary, to break loose and try on another more exciting persona away from the trappings of our real world -- if only for a few minutes. Could there be a greater fantasy-come-to-life than flying through the air like the glittering circus performers whose feats have always seemed so beyond our abilities?

``It's just so cool to be up there swinging so fast,'' explained 12-year-old Julia Torres, one of Reggie's friends who lives in Massachusetts.

``It was scary,'' Julia admitted. ``That's why it was a challenge and when you're done, you feel so proud of yourself.''

During our week at the Club Med here on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, the largest in the Americas, Reggie, along with Julia and scores of other kids and adults, would fly from the trapeze several times, do tricks on the trampoline and learn to walk a tightrope. Later in the week, many would show off their new skills in two circus shows, one performed just by the kids, complete with sequined costumes.

Of course, the kids also happily sail and wind surf, swim, play basketball, paint Mexican pottery and dance the night away while we're in Mexico. The morning-till-night activity and plentiful food, all included in the price, are why families choose Club Med.

But no matter what else is going on in the village, the circus is a big draw. Even when temperatures soar into the 90s, 50 people or more would be patiently waiting for their chance to climb the trapeze ladder. Some report later the experience helped them conquer a long-held fear. Others are just out for a new style of fun in the sun.

``My sons can't get enough of it,'' said Arlene Zopf, a Colorado Realtor whose boys were strutting their stuff after Reggie's turn. ``There's no other place you can go on vacation and fly on a trapeze,'' she laughed.

That's probably why these circus workshops -- separate ones are held daily for adults and for kids -- have become Club Med's signature programs, drawing more than 55,000 flying trapeze wannabes at 23 resorts around the world.

The programs are so popular some guests complain they don't get enough time on the apparatus. Others plan their entire vacations around the experience, working on increasingly difficult stunts each year.

``It's the reason I come,'' said Babette Halpin, the single mom from Anaheim, Calif., who was among the first every afternoon to arrive for the two-hour workshop and later would be one of the stars of the trapeze show.

Even failing can end up a positive here. ``There's such a sense of genuine camaraderie, a shared experience,'' said Leslie Strom, a fortysomething consultant from Copake Falls, N.Y. Despite three days' effort, she couldn't execute a flip. ``People kept coming up to me congratulating me for trying, telling me I inspired them! It was great fun.''

That's the idea, of course. Started 25 years ago at one Caribbean club to offer guests yet another activity, the circus programs caught on so well that they're now an especially big draw at the family clubs popular with Americans in the Caribbean and in Florida. Children as young as 3 participate through their organized Mini Club. My 7-year-old daughter Melanie, for one, wouldn't miss a circus class where she could in the course of an hour swing from a small trapeze, jump on the trampoline, juggle, tumble and learn to be a clown, garish wigs and all. Later in the week, Melanie would fly from the big trapeze, too.

``Kids take to it right away. We've even had 2-year-olds on the big trapeze,'' said Bob Christians, the former Ringling Brothers trapeze artist who founded and now oversees the ever-growing program. He just returned from starting one in Turkey.

Lest parents worry about their children's safety, Christians, who personally makes all of the trapeze equipment, notes that there's never been a serious accident.

``Once you climb the ladder, there's second-to-second instructions from instructors who have had months of training,'' he said. Even so, I couldn't force myself up the ladder. Reggie was disappointed in me.

Next time, I promised.

Maybe.

Club Med offers circus workshops for children and adults at Sandpiper in Florida, Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic, Eleuthera, Bahams, Ixtapa and Huatulco in Mexico and Carvelle, Guadeloupe as well as at other villages around the world. An intensive adults-only circus program is offered at Turkoise, Turks & Caicos.

Summer and fall traditionally are the least expensive time to go, with many deals offered. All through June, kids stay free (with a paying adult and until age 12) at Eleuthera and Sandpiper. Go from Dallas to Huatulco for $848 for adults and $299 for kids aged 6-17, including air fare. (One kids' deal per adult.)

Let Club Med pick the village and take a Family Escape for $799 per person, including air, from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco or Washington, D.C. Call 1-800-CLUB-MED or visit the Web site at www.clubmed.com and ask about other deals.

(Look for Eileen Ogintz's books from HarperCollins West: ``A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains'' and, for parents, ``Are We There Yet?'')

(Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or e-mail to eogintz@aol.com. While every letter cannot be answered, some of your stories may be used in upcoming columns.)

(c) 1998, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate



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