Dance Through the Decades

I was asked to give a talk entitled “Dance Through the Decades.” Funnily enough, as an aerial dancer, It’s difficult do that!

Unlike other disciplines such as ballet, modern or contemporary dance, there isn’t an extensive body of written knowledge about aerial dance. 

The most powerful or meaningful body of knowledge about aerial dance is contained in the body of the dancer.

So what I can do today is share with you my experience of this exciting, beautiful and still evolving dance discipline. 

Aerial dance is such a young discipline that information regarding its history remains very scattered. Some scholars, such as Bernasconi and Smith, tell us that aerial dance begins in the 1960s, with Alwin Nikolais and his work “Sorcerer.”

I believe that the search for new spaces in which to dance led us to explore the space above our heads.  During the 1980s, the post-modern dance movement, led by visionaries such as Trisha Brown and Murray Louis, found unconventional venues for choreographed movement. This voyage of dance discovery didn’t happen just in the USA; it was happening all over the world. 

Flying is not choreography. Using a device to provide a moment of an aerial illusion in a performance does not equal an aerial dance performance. What defines aerial dance is the intention to create a choreographic work: the desire to tell a story. We aerialists tell our stories while hovering over the floor. 

Circus art is not aerial dance. Circus aerial arts rely on tricks and repeated “ta-da!” moments to entertain the audience.  Aerial dance, however, relies on a dancer’s ability to use the same essential technique to tell a sustained narrative.   

Although aerialists and circus artists share basic techniques, we develop our own style in order to create a more suitable language in which to express ourselves.    

1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Sarah Goldrainer
December 19, 2015 at 1:32 am

I can attest to the fact that Aerial Dance is a storytelling art form. I have had the privilege of studying Aerial Dance with Monica and throughout my time in her class, I have come to realize how essential it is to establish narration through choreography. The ability to communicate with the audience and fellow dancers is crucial in this work. From day one in class, when Monica would teach us a new trick on the equipment, she would instantly show us how to incorporate that trick into a larger choreographed piece. She would always tell us that learning how to perform one trick on its own isn’t enough. She would remind us how important it is to be able to flow through the choreography with an intention. It is the dancers’ job to be mentally alert and aware of their surroundings and the equipment at all times, but it is also the dancers’ responsibility to trust themselves and their training. Aerial Dancers must live in the moment and communicate through their bodies while being emotionally and physically present onstage.

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