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Steamboat Magazine

Flying for the Core

12/05/2014 04:28PM ● By Christina Freeman

Courtney Anderson performs an aerial solo in the lyra. Photo by Aryeh Copa

By Jennie Lay

A circus arts craze that is sweeping the nation has soared into Steamboat Springs. Curiosity was spurred initially by aerial choreography on Perry-Mansfield’s stage. Eventually, the camp offered a series of community workshops to try aerial work on long, suspended slings and a low flying trapeze. This lured in Steamboat’s first local aerialists, and in no time at all, the promise of hard-core strength conditioning ensured they were hooked.

Truth be told, mastering circus tricks makes for a burly workout.

Ask an aerialist what makes her fly. To climb the silks, twirl in a suspended hoop or fly from a trapeze, an immense core power and upper body strength are unmistakable assets. But a reply will also reveal that aerial dance also provides a mix of endorphin- fueled joy, confidence in overcoming fear and accomplishment in mastering new tricks.

Dancers twirl entwined in the lyra during a duet. Photo by Areh Copa

 “Aerial to me is play time. The challenges can be both physical and emotional, but because of that, the reward of overcoming them is also both physical and emotional,” says Courtney Anderson, who has been learning the silks, hammock and lyra (a suspended steel hoop). “It does force you to turn off your brain a little bit, because that can hold you back. The most difficult parts for me are keeping my shoulders feeling good and strong – and the drops. The flips used to scare me so much, but after the first few times they have become my most favorite.”

Of course, flips and drops aren’t the only components of aerial dance. Aside from private riggings in local homes and barns, Steamboat Pilates, Yoga & Fitness is the only place in town that is permanently rigged for aerial practice. Multi-level classes let you amp up the core strengthening exercises with aerial Pilates, stretch a little deeper with aerial yoga, or learn to climb the silks and fly like Peter Pan. These classes are the domain of seriously trained Pilates instructors, and learning safe ways to invert, climb and fly are key lessons.

“I love how it tests my limits mentally and physically, but I hate the bruises it leaves,” says local aerialist Emma Simmins, who has a silk hammock rigged from the roof inside her barn. She recalls that initial feeling of weakness when trying to master a new climb or maneuver, but says it’s “absolutely amazing how strong you get and how quickly it happens. I am the strongest I have ever been in my life.”

Steamboat’s aerialists cite the benefits of feeling more toned, more flexible and stronger than ever before. The leap in strength, they say, is empowering.

“I love the adrenaline rush when I can fly high in the air and let go, flipping, dropping, unwinding back to the ground, trusting the fabric and myself,” says Pilates and aerial instructor Heidi Miller. “An experienced aerialist can make it look so easy, gentle, beautiful, flowy and natural. But when you climb into the fabric you realize how hard, challenging, intimidating and sometimes painful it can be.” Miller choreographed the aerial dance piece “Nature” for last year’s Steamboat Dance Theatre concert and will debut a new work for the 2015 show, Feb. 26-28 at the Steamboat Springs High School.

“Everything in aerial challenges what you think is possible,” says aerialist Kaydee Barker. “I have new confidence, new strength, and new revelation about who I am. Flipping into the hammock is like flipping back into my childhood.”

 A Flight With Steamboat’s Aerial Dancers

KPA Productions videographer Kelly Anzalone used a complex setup of a jib on a tripod on a dolly to film this aerial dance, “Nature,” during a dress rehearsal for the 2014 Steamboat Dance Theatre concert held at the Steamboat Springs High School. The dance was choreographed by Heidi Miller and features aerialists along with Miller, Courtney Anderson, Emma Simmins, Jennie Lay, Kaydee Barker and Nikki Inglis. The music is “Mandara” by Azam Ali.