By Lacey Severins – Contributing writer
When we were younger, many of us dreamed of running away and joining the circus. For better or worse, I would dare say, that most of us did not. We simply grew up and grew out of those whimsical notions that life would be better suited surrounded by fire breathers, clowns and ringmasters.
Ironically enough, as we got older, we still inevitably found ourselves surrounded by fire breathers, clowns and ringmasters in our daily lives and jobs; just without the excitement of trapeze artists and lions.
But recently, in my search for the ever illusive workout to trump all workouts, I found something rather unique that will indeed let you join the circus, if only for a moment, or however long you are willing to fly through the air with the greatest of ease.
Buffalo Aerial Dance was the group I discovered.
Tucked away in the Alt Theatre, dozens of individuals dangle and glide through the air on monochromatic stretchy-sheets of fabric dubbed “silks.” Imagine, if you will, the acrobatic sky dancing of Cirque du Soleil, and that is what these people are doing.
Erica Cope, a founding member of Buffalo Aerial Dance, or BAD, spoke with me about the creative and athletic nature of aerial, and why it swooshed in to the Nickel City.
“I lived in Seattle for almost seven years, and it was really popular there, so I started training. I moved back here in 2011 and started looking for a place to train, but there wasn’t one. I met other people who were interested and wanted to train, and it evolved from there,” Cope said.
“I began taking teacher training programs to make sure that I could teach people who wanted to learn – it really developed out of a genuine love for it.”
Having taken various forms of dance throughout her life, Cope heard through the grapevine of aerial as being a form of dancing and decided to give it a whirl.
“When I saw it, I was just blown away. I got this feeling, and some of my students have gotten the same feeling of just having to do.”
Speaking to the physical aspect of aerial, it is not an activity that people should shy away from. The sport is all encompassing; all skill levels are encouraged to participate with an understanding that you will be appropriately placed in groups that fit your skill set.
“For people who are just interested in aerial as just a fun form of fitness, you can just stay on the ground and use the silks to do some movements and stretches. We focus more on working in the air and working towards choreography which takes a lot of strength,” Cope said.
“You don’t have to be in great shape, but if you are in average shape, it’s going to take you at least a couple of months of hard work to be comfortable in the air. But it’s not something that isn’t possible because we’ve seen lots of people do it – and it’s amazing.”
Cope also stressed the importance of being a willing participant who wants to work diligently and with zest and vigor. If anyone wants to be successful at aerial from its most basic to most challenging level, you have to be dedicated to see results.
“You’ve got to put the time in if you really want to get to the point of working in the air…aerial is really versatile, and it depends on what you want to do with it. It can really be called aerial fitness or even aerial yoga,” Cope said.
“You don’t realize that you are getting such a great workout because it is so much fun,” she added, with a laugh.
“It tends to be a lot of strength training, because, it does take a lot of strength to stay up there even for a few seconds. So for the first few years, it’s really about building up the muscle and once you get into performing, then there can be some cardio, but it’s more of a strength-based workout.”
Currently, BAD has a wide variety of individuals partaking in the program. Having spread through word of mouth and gaining traction in the Buffalo community, the small group is starting to burgeon as more class options become available.
“The classes that we have are 18 and up, so the age ranges from 18- and 19-year-olds to people in their 40s. … It’s a mixture for sure. … Right now, we have three different classes and I really want to try to gear one of our classes towards people are just starting out. We have two classes Saturday, and those tend to be for people who are in more of a performance track, and the Sunday class we have is being advertised as more of a beginner class.”
“My hope for that is to make a class that is just devoted to people who want to work at their own pace, wherever they are and to be able to work with them that way,” Cope said.
“The studio we have right now is actually the Alt Theatre, and run by a dancer Amy Taravella who has been a great support and mentor in getting the aerial program started. So, since we are in a theatre, the ceilings are lower than we might like them to be, but most of the time, you are working low in aerial anyhow.
“Eventually,” said Cope, “we would like to have higher ceilings, but it’s working now. A lot of people that have seen aerial before were intimidated by the height of the space they saw people working in, but here, since the ceilings are lower than normal, more people are coming out and are excited to work with the silks,” Cope said.
Right now, Cope hosts the following two classes through August, both of which cost $15 per class:
Level 1 class: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.
Beginner class: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sundays; these classes are open to anyone.
As of Sept. 1, she will offer:
Level 1 class: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays by preregistration only; $110 for six weeks.
Beginner class: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sundays; drop-in $20 per class; 5:45 to 7:15 p.m. Wednesdays; preregistration only, $110 for six weeks.
Additionally, Cope said she has open studio 7:15 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. to noon Friday, and 12:30 to 3 p.m. Sunday for anyone who is at Level 1 or higher to come and practice or work out. That is $7 and is always drop-in.
As aerial continues to grow in the Western New York area, it is the wide range of emotions people feel while performing, from excitement to serenity as they move through the air, that keeps them coming back for more.
Mentally and physically invigorating, aerial acrobatics, yoga or dance, whatever you may call this workout, will surely sweep you off your feet, keep your head in the clouds and get a really good workout.