I quit my management consulting job to teach flying trapeze. I make way less money, but following my dream has been worth it.
- David Paasche is a flying trapeze instructor in Dallas who left consulting to do circus full-time.
- He was nearing a six-figure salary and now makes $15 an hour, but he's more fulfilled and happier.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with David Paasche, a 25-year-old flying trapeze instructor in Dallas, Texas, about his job. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I grew up in New Jersey and went to Brown University for undergrad. My first experience with partner acrobatics was when I was the president of the Brown Aerial Arts club.
In 2019, I graduated and moved to San Francisco for an entry-level analyst job in management consulting at the firm Altman Vilandrie & Company. We were focused on the telecom, media, and technology industries. My day-to-day role involved doing market research, building Excel sheets, and making PowerPoint slides to present our findings. I was on my way toward earning a six-figure salary.
I was excited to have a job right out of college that paid really well, where I worked with smart, interesting people. I liked the job and worked 12 to 15 hours a day.
While working there, I started flying trapeze in my free time
I went to the San Francisco Circus Center looking for a partner acrobatics class. They didn't have one, so I thought, Maybe I'll try this flying trapeze thing.
Flying trapeze is when you're swinging back and forth on a trapeze bar over a net throwing tricks. The goal is to come off the bar, do some kind of trick (flipping or twisting), and get caught by someone who's in another trapeze, hanging upside down by their knees.
As I continued taking classes, there was this slow shift toward circus as a possible career. The physicality of circus was important for that shift. In consulting, you use your mind, but in circus, you use both your mind and body. You have to be strong and flexible. There's the intellectual element of making your artistic vision come to life and the mental training you need for big tricks.
I was in the circus gym seeing the people who had been in professional shows and part of big troupes, and they felt like the people I wanted as professional role models.
Then COVID-19 happened, and my job went remote
Circus gyms also shut down. I moved back to New Jersey and was working on a hard project. My life was wake up, work, and sleep. I think that accelerated my job switch. The experience probably burned me out a little faster than it might've otherwise.
A flying trapeze rig opened on Long Island, and I started training again. I was planning on visiting my girlfriend in Florida, and one of the people on the rig recommended I check out Momentum Academy, a circus gym in Port Saint Lucie with flying trapeze.
I talked to the owner of Momentum, and he gave me the opportunity to work there. Because I was at a high skill level, Momentum offered me the opportunity to teach in some of their recreational classes a few weeks into my time there.
I had a little bit of a safety net to make the switch. I was on sabbatical from consulting to learn trapeze, so I had a three-month period to go teach also. I drove down and started on January 3, 2021.
I was mostly working board and catching. Everybody starts working board, which is the person who's helping you take off, clipping your safety lines, and holding your belt before you jump. For catching, you have to have more strength and awareness, but a strong, capable person who has limited background can slot into it quickly.
Two months in, the owner offered me a position to stay on
I worked there for a few more months, then moved to Dallas to teach at the Dallas Circus Center.
I was leaning on my savings when I started, but I'm on salary now. My salary is $15 an hour for 30 hours a week, and the gym helps out with housing, but doesn't cover the cost entirely. That's the typical setup for flying trapeze teachers — the gym will help subsidize or find affordable housing.
I don't really think about it as a 'pay cut' from my consulting job
It was more like this big life change where I switched from the mindset of working a "job" that was exciting and dynamic but where I didn't feel that sense of fulfillment or meaning, to living this new life that was all about achieving something wonderful and new that I never would've imagined for myself before.
In a lot of ways, I really don't feel like I have a "job" right now. My hours and tasks are different every week, and most of what I do revolves around making the gym run smoothly, delivering top-notch instruction to our students, and building up my skills as an athlete. It feels a lot more like participating in a community or family than it feels like a job that I switched into from a different job. It's a life I switched into from another life.
Flying trapeze gyms fill their staff with some locals and other people like me who come and camp out there. We increase our skill set, then move on, weaving our way through the circus world.
On a typical teaching day, I'm waking up between 9 and 10 a.m.
I'll come into the gym, clean, and do rig maintenance, then I'll train — strength, flexibility, maybe straps, trampoline, whatever I need to focus on. I'll take a break, eat, and hang out outside the gym.
I'll maybe train more, then teach. I mainly teach group classes, but about once a month, I teach a private trampoline or handstand class. Usually after classes, around 9:30 p.m., there's a team training session on the rig or I'll base duo trapeze until 11 p.m. or midnight.
My dream is to be in the circus, performing flying or maybe duo trapeze on a big show
My hope is that in the next two to five years, I'll be able to build the skill set to make that happen. I would be eager to work for any circus company where I could perform at a high level, especially now as I start my career.
That said, I'll admit I have a bit of a crush on Cirque du Soleil. They have some awesome fly acts right now, and I've met a few of the catchers. Cirque is also a big-name circus company in the US. I think that brand value creates some draw, just having heard its name all the time, even before I ever thought I might become a circus artist myself.
If you want a side job in flying trapeze as you're pursuing a traditional career, that's easy to do. Find a rig, express interest, and take classes for a while. If you want to be a circus nomad, get your skills up, make that your life, and think about how much you want it. There are a lot of places you can go, but you're giving up a lot of stability. If that's going to fill you up and you can't see yourself doing anything else, absolutely go for it.
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