In her mid-30s, Laura Wooster, BA ’97, swung into a career as a trapeze artist. She’s taken her aerial expertise from circus big tops to the White House.
Laura Wooster, BA ’97, told herself she’d made a terrible mistake. She was hanging 23 feet in the air from a stainless steel bar when she heard the call: “Legs up!” It was her signal to hook her knees around the bar—and dangle upside down.
“I’m not ready!” Wooster called out. She was 35. She had recently quit her job, ended her marriage and mourned a death in her family. Now she was in a circus tent, swaying from a trapeze. “I was looking for change in my life,” she said. “But at that moment I thought I may have taken it a little too far.”
Many people dream of running away and joining the circus—but Wooster actually did it. Seven years after her first swing on a fly bar, the political science major is a professional trapeze artist and instructor with the Trapeze School New York at its D.C. Navy Yard facility. She’s performed with circuses and trapeze troupes throughout the D.C. area, including a show on the White House lawn with President Barack Obama in the audience. When she’s not perfecting her mid-air somersaults and backflip dismounts, Wooster is an independent marketing and public relations consultant. And while her Columbian College professors would be surprised to see her under the big top rather than up on the Hill, “if there’s one thing I learned at GW it’s that I can do anything,” she said.
Wooster didn’t have Cirque du Soleil dreams as a child, although she remembers seeing a circus as a toddler and telling her grandparents that anything the trapeze fliers could do, she could do better. She was a mediocre gymnast in high school, she insists, and never imagined herself on a trapeze until she saw Sarah Jessica Parker try it on an episode of Sex and the City. She toyed with the idea of taking classes before the pressure of real life took over. Wooster was working at a Washington, D.C., PR firm and struggling in her marriage when her younger brother passed away. On the one year anniversary of his death, she vowed to make changes. Hungry for a creative outlet, she left her corporate job, renewed her interest in photography and yoga and enrolled in a Trapeze School class.
During her first climb up the three-story ladder to the narrow launch platform, Wooster was, admittedly, “terrified.” Although she was tied to safety lines with a net below her, she remembers the fly bar feeling heavy in her grip. She thought about giving up and taking the long climb back down the ladder. “I don’t know if I jumped off that platform or if I was pushed, but all of the sudden I was swinging through the air.”
By the time she’d finished her first lesson—where she successfully “legged up” and jumped into the hands of a waiting catcher—Wooster signed up for another class. “From the start, I had this amazing feeling of accomplishment. It was extraordinarily empowering,” she said.
Wooster performed with the Trapeze School on the White House lawn in 2015. (Photo: Rich Riggins)
Soon Wooster took a job as the troupe photographer and shortly after became an instructor and trapeze artist herself. She has toured across the D.C. region with the Trapeze School, as well as with the Capital City Circus and Sweet Spot Aerial Productions, a professional circus arts company that hires and highlights LGBTQ artists and themes. Her favorite performance came in 2015 when the Trapeze School participated in the White House Halloween celebration. Wooster even tried to coax President Obama on to the South Lawn trapeze rig. He politely declined—on the advice of his Secret Service detail.
With her consulting business in full swing, Wooster uses her free time to build her strength, flexibility and balance. And she works on perfecting new tricks—like a crowd pleaser called hocks salto, which involves leaping upside down into a backward somersault. Meanwhile, she hopes her aerial feats can inspire others to step into the ring.
“People can be intimated when they see performers flying in the air, but there really is something for everyone in the circus arts,” Wooster said. “You can take a juggling class or do acrobats or clown training. Even if you never step into the spotlight, it’s a great way to build your confidence and strength, and prove to yourself that anything is possible.”