By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Kelly Cooper, a teacher of dance movement and physiology in Concord, begins a swing during a lesson in trapeze arts in Oakland.
This summer Kelly Cooper will be getting in touch with her inner circus performer. She’s planning to fly through the air with the greatest of ease three days a week on a flying trapeze.
Presently she takes weekly lessons at Trapeze Arts in Oakland, which offers classes inside a large warehouse. But this summer, the Mt. Diablo Education Association member plans to up the ante when it comes to improving her skill level 24 feet in the air by taking lessons three times a week. She has already made tremendous progress: She can let go of the bar and twist in midair before grabbing it again. She can also fly off the trapeze and grasp the outstretched arms of her instructor, who is hanging by his knees. He just happens to be Kory Mildenberger, a physics teacher at Oakland High School and an Oakland Education Association member.
Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord is where Cooper teaches dance movement and physiology — a branch of biology emphasizing the functions and activities of living organisms and their physical and chemical processes. The graceful movements of trapeze artistry and the adrenaline rush from daredevil aerial feats bring both of these subjects to life in amazing ways for this mother of two, who initially tried trapeze lessons as a way to rid herself of post-pregnancy weight.
“The great thing about this is learning something and then wanting to go to the next step and pick a new trick,” says Cooper. “Sometimes you have a frustrating moment. Then something clicks and you get it. And then you’re just so excited to know that what you wanted to do was really attainable after all.”
Meeting new challenges is part of being a lifelong learner, she adds, and she hopes her willingness to take risks (with a net) and push herself to new heights will inspire her students to challenge themselves and pursue their dreams in similar fashion.
It isn’t easy. Sometimes her timing is off, and she misses and falls. But she doesn’t give up. Every time she does an exercise on the trapeze, she flips herself off the net and immediately watches herself on video, to analyze what went right and what didn’t.
Cooper has no plans of joining the circus any time soon, but loves being on the trapeze as a way to “de-stress” and have fun. “Everyone needs to have some balance in their life,” she says. “Teachers are always working and bringing home lessons. Sometimes it’s nice to have a lesson yourself in things that interest you.”
Best of all, the trapeze gives her a sense of rejuvenation that will hopefully carry over into the fall, says Cooper, a 2010 nominee for Teacher of the Year in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.
“It keeps me feeling young. It’s reclaiming a feeling I had before I had my career and kids. And it makes me feel good about myself.”