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It’s Never Too Late to ‘Fly’ on a Trapeze

It’s never too late is a series about people who decide to pursue their dreams on their own terms.

There are people who dream of directing a play or a film. Director Tom Moore has done both. But he has always dreamed of “flying”.

“It was a childhood fantasy,” said Mr. Moore, 79, a film, television and theater Manager whose credits include the original Broadway production of “Grease” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “‘Night, Mother.”

“I liked the circus, but loved the ultimate act, which was the trapeze,” he said. “I would wait for that.”

But Mr. Moore never thought he had the athletic ability to swing, stretch and then fly from a long horizontal pole, often 30 feet in the air. He wasn’t good at baseball, and at 5 feet 7 inches and 150 pounds, he was too small for football at West Lafayette High School in Indiana. “I just assumed I wasn’t good at sports,” he said.

So instead of running away to join the Barnum & Bailey Circus, Mr. Moore, who grew up in Meridian, Miss., before moving to Indiana, attended the Yale School of Drama. He did quite well with “Grease” on Broadway back in 1972, which ran for more than 3,300 performances; the show “Over Here!” with newcomers John Travolta, Marilu Henner and Treat Williams; and the play “‘Night, Mother,” which he also directed for the 1986 film starring Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft.

His television credits include episodes of the 1980s drama “Thirtysomething,” “ER,” “Felicity” and “Ally McBeal.” Along the way, he was nominated for two Tonys and three Emmys. (He recently co-edited the book “Grease, Tell Me More, Tell Me More,” for the Broadway show’s 50th anniversary this year.)

Around the age of 50, after the demise of a relationship, he was looking for new adventures. (He’s single now and cheekily describes his longtime partners as “a series of cherished short stories rather than the one great American novel.”) In 1996, while vacationing at the now-defunct Club Med resort in Playa Blanca, Mexico, he was drawn to a trapeze rig on the beach, and signed up.

Trapeze was a perfect blend of theatricality and athleticism, and he loved it. He made a “catch” – that is, he managed to grab the pole in the air – on his first attempt and even participated in a show at the end of the week.

This spoke to his nascent acting ambitions. “I was never a good actor,” he admitted. “Acting is about revealing and opening yourself up, and I couldn’t do that.” But he was a performer.

He “flew” a few more times at another Club Med in Huatulco, Mexico, over the next year and decided he wanted to incorporate his vacation pastime into real life. At the time, he was living in the Hollywood Hills while still directing, but feeling somewhat restless, he asked around for names of trapeze teachers. One kept popping up: Richie Gaona, who came from a famous trapeze family, the Flying Gaonas. Mr. Moore was not sure that Mr. Gaona wanted to work with an amateur, but Mr. Gaona agreed. And then he began seriously learning trapeze on a rig in Mr. Gaona’s backyard in the San Fernando Valley, about a 40-minute drive from Mr. Moore’s home.

“I learned everything from Richie,” he said. “He was great. And then I was into it big time and would go three to four times a week.”

He became so immersed in the art of trapeze that he ended up making a documentary about the Gaona family called “The amazing flight.”

“I think I did things a little backwards because I was so passionately involved in my work and building a career that I didn’t explore the athletic side of me until late,” said Mr. Moore, who considers himself an intermediate amateur. Sometimes people say, ‘Oh, you’re a trapeze artist.’ I’m nothing like that. It is a sport for me and fun, but I know the skills and talents required to practice the art of trapeze.” (The following interview has been condensed and edited.)

What is your favorite thing about the sport?

You can’t think about anything else on the trapeze. If you think about anything else, you will fail. It is a fantastic escape in itself.

What is the hardest thing about trapeze?

Swinging on the pole is the preparation for all the tricks you do on the trapeze. The stronger it is, the higher it is and the more accurate it is, the better the trick. It takes a long time to learn to swing. Timing is everything. People think you need strength to do it. Men especially try to increase muscle mass, but that is not true. It’s all about timing and grace. Trapeze, at its best, is more of a dance in the air.

Have you ever been injured?

I once had an accident. People think you have a net so you’re fine, but the net can be the most dangerous part. You must land on your back. If you come in on your legs and feet or knees, you will bounce wildly out of the net. You could be seriously injured. The safety lines were holding me back from extra height, so I took them off for a trick, but I was so excited that when I entered the net, I landed on my stomach. I was in the middle of flipping onto my back and I didn’t make it all the way. I jumped extraordinarily high into the air and I came down face first on the ropes of the crest, the edges of the net. It cut through my entire nose all the way to the cartilage underneath.

A friend handed me a towel and said, “Put this over your face.” I thought she was trying to stop the bleeding but everyone was so traumatized by my face. I had done real damage. A great surgeon was able to do the job, a reconstruction of the nose. Mind you, I had done this without telling anyone I was going to do it or I would never have been allowed. So I deserved what I got.

How often do you trapeze these days?

Maybe once a month. 25 years ago I was willing to sacrifice anything – even time in my career – to get to trapeze, but you mature, even in trapeze. I go when I feel like it instead of on a fixed schedule. I wanted to be as good as I was at 60 when I did it all the time and when I had a big trapeze birthday party for 250. But I’m not and that’s okay. But I’m not going to give it up because I still enjoy doing it.

Do the physical demands of trapeze take a toll?

Every time I’m off it and go back it hurts. As you get older, it’s the joints. They hurt more. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but I will never stop because I know that once I stop, I won’t go back. If you keep doing it, your body will get used to it.

I always practice my hardest trick first because it takes everything I have to give. I tell my body, “This is what you have to do.” It’s like walking into water, whether you edge out inch by inch or plunge right in. It’s better for me to throw you out.

What has trapeze given you on an emotional level?

My athletic pursuits have given me a good sense of self. Many people my age have long since retired to observation. They are no longer a participant. I don’t feel that way at all. Attitude, spirit of life, capacity for curiosity and joy are the most important things you can have.

I just keep doing what I can, and thankfully that seems to be quite a bit.

I feel like my whole life has been reinvented when needed, which I think is a great way to keep staying young. There is always something new if you remain open to it.