Thursday, 10 July 2008

Air Art - Air Dance company teaches new technique at ETSU workshop

Published: 10th Jul 2008
By Rex Barber
Press Staff Writer

Mary Jones takes part in the Aerial Dance Workshop being held at ETSU. (Ron Campbell / Johnson City Press)

Nina Charity wrapped herself in purple silk and twisted, twirled and flipped 20 feet up in the air.

She was practicing air dance, a new and popular art now capable of being taught at East Tennessee State University. The school recently purchased the equipment for air dancing — silk ropes and trapeze bars — that were suspended from the massive steel ceiling beams in the lower level of Brooks Gym.

Charity is a member of Jayne Bernasconi’s Air Dance company. Bernasconi and her crew were at ETSU to instruct about a dozen women from across the eastern United States on the art of air dancing in ETSU’s first Air Dance Workshop.

Charity began a routine on the silk ropes, bending and twisting and hurtling and flipping while wrapped in the strands of purple fabric. She performed various routines, including one called the “scary dragon.”

“ ... It looks like a scary dragon, I guess you could say ... where I grab the fabric and I swung my legs around, came back up, locked my knees and then pulled myself up to fall and dive through again to catch the fabric on my way down.”

The thought that she could fall only adds that much more to the experience, Charity said.

“Oh it’s exhilarating,” she said. “I’m an adrenaline junkie, so it’s fun to fall all the way from the top.”

Delbert Hall, a professor in ETSU’s theater department, organized the workshop. He hopes the workshop, the only one of its kind in the state to his knowledge, will become an annual event.

“This is the first year of this, and something we’re planning to do for many years as it grows,” he said. “We wanted to do things we don’t normally teach,” Hall said.

Hall said the equipment for air dancing is fairly inexpensive, consisting of ropes, silks, bungie cords, hooks and attachment riggings. He utilizes some of the same equipment in the theater department.

“Since I do a lot of the riggings for these types of performances, I suggested we do an aerial dance workshop for the summer,” he said. “We’re hoping to bring in a lot of people who normally wouldn’t come to ETSU to think, ‘Hey, this is a neat place. I’d like to come here.’

“We think this is something that’s going to continue,” he said. “It’s good exercise. It’s a beautiful art form.”

Bernasconi, who has a dance company in Maryland, has also written a book on the art. She said the dance is complex, but allows much more freedom of movement because it essentially defies gravity.

“What we’re doing is low-flying trapeze on single-point traps,” she said. “ ... It’s called aerial dance and we use the ground and the air. So what (the students are) doing right now is they’re exploring motion, conical shapes. There’s a lot of physics involved in it.

“ ... They’ve learned some vocabulary, skills or tricks and we’ve been learning that for the past two days. And now we’re actually taking it into motion. And they feel the dynamics of how light they can be. When you’re just static and trying those tricks gravity just pulls you down. But when you take it into motion and you use the dynamics of the lines it frees you up, so they begin to dance and that’s why it’s called aerial dance.”

Claire Phillips dances at her high school in Chattanooga, but has never done aerial dance. She said she has learned “tons” of stuff that will help her in her dancing back home.

“My aunt is a professor here at ETSU and so she brought back the news. I was very excited when I heard about it. It’s a very cool experience.”

She said the motion she gets while in mid-air creates a feeling of exhilaration.

“It’s very fun,” she said. “It’s kind of scary because you’re off the ground and there’s a secure bar on the trapeze, but then when you let go and you’re not on the bar anymore, it’s like leaning back and you’re not sure if you’re secure anymore.”

The workshop participants will perform a finale showcasing aerial dancing for the public this Saturday at 10 a.m. in Brooks Gym.

Source: Johnson City Press, Tennessee

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