By Elizabeth Skwiot, Special AFS Contributor

When I first stepped off a flying trapeze platform at San Francisco’s Circus Center in 2001, I had no idea where that leap of faith would take me.  I’ve now created a hybrid circus-inspired fitness concept (Cirque-It Fitness), co-invented and patented a trapeze bar, and educated dozens of fitness professionals across the country. Looking back, I see the flying trapeze taught me lessons that have helped to propel me forward.

Choose to be in charge

At 5 foot 3 inches, I’m a bit on the petite size for the flying trapeze. You might think this to be an advantage, but it comes with its challenges.

Many don’t know this, but the trapeze bar itself is rather heavy. It also wants to go. While you’re standing on the platform, you’re holding an upright bar with one hand while the other holds a trapeze bar ready to take you flying. When you first start, a helper on the platform will hold your safety belt so you don’t fly off the platform before you’re ready. As you develop experience, you’ll wean off the helper.

Even without a helper, I always felt at the whim of the bar; it seemed I always took off just before the bar had its way with me. One day, my coach saw my struggle on the platform. From the floor of the gym, he yelled, “Elizabeth, stand tall and pull that shoulder back. Don’t let that bar boss you around.” It was the verbal smack upside the head I needed. I stood tall, puffed out my chest, pulled my shoulder back, and completed my take-off when I was darn well ready.

I continue to remember these words whenever I’m approached by a situation that seems like it’s getting the better of me, and then I remember I’m the one in charge. No situation can pull me in its direction unless I let it. As a business owner, you might feel as if there are a dozen trapeze bars, all demanding your time and attention. Stand tall, pull those shoulders back, and decide what direction you’ll go in and when. You’re in charge of your flight pattern.

But you’re never completely in charge

Ego must certainly be tempered by humility. In the circus, the same rules of physics and safety apply to everyone equally.

The flying trapeze classes I attended attracted a diverse crowd – there were young people just out of high school, corporate cave dwellers, doctors, writers, dot-com millionaires, you name it. Each class seemed to run the spectrum of socioeconomic classes, not to mention attract diverse ethnicities, nationalities, genders, and sexualities.

Yet in class, no one cared how much money anyone had, or that one was a doctor who may have saved a life that day, while another was a young adult floating around living on friends’ couches to have money for trapeze. Everyone needed to abide by the rules of the gym and help one another. No one was exempt, and no one got special treatment. The trapeze was the Great Equalizer.

As an entrepreneur, I need to remember that I’m not entitled to anything. I need to learn the rules of business and finance. I should respect everyone’s time and be mindful of how I communicate with others. I need to progress at a pace that’s safe and smart for me and my business--to learn a knee hang and a split before a double-twisting layout. Doing too much too soon, acting like the world owes me something, and pretending like the rules apply to everyone but me is sure to be catastrophic—perhaps fatal.

Be in a group that’s better than you

Waiting on the gym floor in between my turns, I once overheard a coach offering some suggestions to another flyer. The coach suggested that the flyer try an additional weekly class and proposed a class time that generally attracted some of the best flyers at the Center.

The flyer conveyed her apprehension at joining a group that threw layouts and somersaults out of lines as a warm-up. The coach’s reply: “If you want to get better, you need to be with people better than you.”

It does me no help as an entrepreneur to spend time with—or worse, take advice from—people who do not push or inspire me to be better. As much as possible, I want to be around high achievers, whether it’s in fitness, business, athletics, or another field. If I want to be a successful entrepreneur, I want to create in my life a culture of discipline, focus, and achievement. This doesn’t mean that I push out anyone out of my life who’s not a high achiever—but when it comes to working on my business, I need to be intentional about who I work with and even who gets my time. It means I need to be around high-performing individuals who, in some way, challenge my idea of what is possible.

Do one thing at a time

In flying trapeze, timing is everything. Take off too late and you’ll miss the catch. Perform your trick at the wrong time and fail. Leave the bar too early and you’ll crash into the catcher.

Though one is only in the air seconds, a single trick is made up of dozens of tiny decisions made moment-to-moment. One night, I was challenged by practicing a new trick. After a few tries, my coach noticed that my take-off was substantially worse than it normally was.

“Skwiot, you’re thinking about the trick at the take-off,” he said. I was thinking too far ahead, focusing on the trick and compromising the early stages of the swing. “When you are taking off, think about the take-off.” In essence, I needed to focus on one thing at a time and do my absolute best at each stage of the trick.

Though a flyer, like an entrepreneur, must have the future in mind, if they lose focus on the present task it will compromise everything after it. As an entrepreneur, I certainly have goals for my business; I also need to realize that I will only get there by completing to my best ability the thousands of smaller tasks it will take me to get there. Making the most of the early stages of the journey can only help set me up to successfully fly in the future.

I hope you enjoyed my earlier post on What The Flying Trapeze Teaches Entrepreneurs! Please enjoy this second installment.


Details matter. Always perform your best

When doing my pull-ups one day at the circus school, my coach interrupted my set. “Point your toes,” he said. “It’s harder.”

It also looks nicer. Watch someone do a pull-up with good form and all of a sudden the difficult move actually looks graceful. The person looks long, lean, and light.

Our coaches applied a similar concept to our practice and would coach us to make the most minuscule changes in our movements to improve a trick and its aesthetic appeal. A pointed toe, an engaged muscle, a turn of the head all affect the outcome of the trick and the audience’s perception of it.

Have you ever been in a restaurant and seen someone walk in who you feel you should know? High-performing individuals walk with confidence. They’re polished. They have stage presence. The alternative is also true – if you’re interviewing someone for a position who showed up in pajamas, it doesn’t matter how well they interviewed. You’ll remember the pajamas.

An entrepreneur is always branding. What’s your branding about? Show up to meetings, the gym, the grocery store, like a savvy, confident, successful entrepreneur. Be prepared at meetings. Start on time. Have good form at the gym. Create a culture of excellence around yourself and others will see it, too.

It’s always a team

On the flying trapeze, we see one flyer perform at a time. It’s amazing what an individual acrobat can do. The truth is, however, that no acrobat achieves anything alone. A successful catch is dependent upon the catcher calling the trick at the right time and catching the trick appropriately. The acrobat needs to leave the bar at the exact moment the catcher requests. When returning to the platform, the person holding the bar needs to release it at just the right moment so it’s there when the flyer needs it. Any one of these things done incorrectly can mean disaster—a mid-air crash, a bar to the forehead, an unsafe fall to the net. In the flying trapeze, everyone counts on everyone else.

It’s no different in other sports or in business. The football player crossing the end zone depended upon countless teammates, coaches, nutritionists, and therapists doing their jobs to get him or her there. In business, choose your team wisely, reach out to them for help, and celebrate the wins together.

Always be watching and listening

In flying trapeze class, you take turns. When it’s not your turn, you are either on the platform helping your classmates or on the ground, waiting your turn.

I distinctly remember one day when two flyers were working on the same trick and a coach had to repeat to one flyer the same instructions he had shouted to another. “What are you doing in between turns?” he asked us. “You should be watching. You should be listening.”

In business, it can often feel like we are waiting for our turn—a big sale, break, or opportunity. The truth is, every moment is an opportunity to become better. Visit your competition – what do they do or not do that you can learn from? What information can you glean from current or past clients to improve your products and services? What can your employees share with you about company culture? Stay connected with all aspects of the business and make keen observations about what you can continue or change to improve performance.

Do it or don’t do it—either way, COMMIT

There is no “kind of” take-off. There is no “half-way” layout. Failure to fully commit to any part of a trick can mean a failed trick at best, injury at worst.

It can be scary to step off the platform, let go of the bar, trust a stranger with safety lines, take out a loan, make a strategic pivot, or decide to hire (or let go of) an employee. That said, any successful business needs a decisive leader with a clear concept of the goal and the confidence to make the decisions needed to get there.

This doesn’t mean that one makes decisions recklessly; however, if we as business owners spend too much time thinking about our decisions or worrying about what might happen, we’ll never move forward. Dial-in the vision, make the plan, and act on it with confidence – remember, others are watching our performance. Yes, things might not go well. But then again, they might just take off.

More from this author:

Why Putting Self First isn’t Selfish - It’s Good Business

The Value of Incorporating Play into Your Fitness Business

4 Ways Your Fitness Studio Can Establish a Signature Customer Experience

This is the Sweetest Sound to Share with Members to Increase Engagement


Elizabeth Skwiot is the founder of Cirque-It® Fitness, a circuit-style training modality that incorporates techniques and principles of circus arts with a foundation in science and biomechanics. Classes are taught with ‘circus-infused’ moves in a small group training format that is fun, challenging, and accessible to a wide variety of fitness levels. Cirque-It Fitness hosts off-site workshops around the country, empowering fitness professionals and studios to bring this specialized training to their clients.  For more information, visit​

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