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Aerial dancers soar above the Lawn in their fall showcase

On Saturday afternoon, members of the Aerial Dance Club showed off their impressive strength and grace dancing on suspended silks

Performers danced using long red and pink pieces of silk fabric hanging from a four-legged metal rig.
Performers danced using long red and pink pieces of silk fabric hanging from a four-legged metal rig.

The falling autumn leaves blanketing the classic Rotunda landscape weren’t the only beautiful sights to see on the Lawn Saturday as dancers gracefully moved through the sky on silks, soaring up to 20 feet above the audience. University students showed off their awe-inspiring silks skills at the Aerial Dance Club’s fall showcase at 2 p.m. on the South Lawn. 

Fourteen girls performed solo self-choreographed pieces to their choice of music, which ranged from slow and emotional songs like “Writings on the Wall” by Sam Smith to upbeat, high energy ones like “Heads will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Performers danced using long red and pink pieces of silk fabric hanging from a four-legged metal rig. They selected their songs and choreography based on personal preference and what would best flatter their skill sets and desired stage presence. 

“The song I picked is called ‘Fallingwater’ by Maggie Rogers, and I picked it because I'm doing a lot of drops that are circular, and it kind of mimics the idea of water falling,” said Kate Dotson, Aerial Dance Club president and third-year Education student. “When we did our online showcase last year, I picked a song that was a little more intense, and you had to fall at the perfect time. But I wanted to do something for the in-person showcase that didn't have to be so incredibly matched to the music to give me more freedom.”

The fall showcase offered members of the club their first opportunity to perform for an audience in person since fall 2019. While the showcase featured many returning members, only two of the 14 performers had ever performed in a live show for the club before. The club held a virtual showcase in spring 2021, but for a performer, there is nothing like standing in front of an audience and embracing the grand admiration and round of applause after sharing your passion and hard work with others.  

“The thing I'm excited most for in the showcase is to have an audience because this is the first time I will be performing with an audience, which is extremely exciting — I mean, terrifying, but also exciting,” said Mary Dwyer, Aerial Dance Club social media manager and third-year College student. “When we recorded the virtual showcase last year I messed up the first time and got to climb down, take a breath and go back up. But this year you just have to go for it and hope everything goes like you want it to.” 

Both new and returning members of the Aerial Dance Club have been learning new moves and refining old skills since the beginning of the fall semester, practicing weekly on Fridays indoors at The Phoenix Dance Studio off of Route 29. At the onset of October, performers began picking their music and connecting their favorite skills together with the support of more senior members to ultimately create a beautiful and cohesive piece. 

“I build the skills for my routine first,” Dotson said. “I grew up doing gymnastics for 19 years of my life, so when I switched to aerial, one of the things I really liked was the feeling of flying, and I don't get that so much from poses. I get that more from dropping, and I like the element of surprise. So my routine is like a drop in the beginning and then a drop in the end, and that kind of sandwiches a series of poses.”

The months of hard work and diligent preparation were clear in the graceful and skillful performances as well as smooth transitions between pieces. In addition to the hours of choreography practice, putting on the event required a team effort from club members, parents and alumni. Dotson worked with the Lawn event coordinators to reserve the space on the South Lawn, parents helped set up the rig for the silks and an alumna photographed the event. Ultimately, the event was a great success as friends, family and passers-by were fully captivated by the dancers’ elegant poses and dramatic drops. 

“I loved watching all of the performances,” graduate Education student Summer Stone said. “My favorite part was seeing the dancer drop but still be caught and held by the silks. I was so impressed by their upper body strength — they are incredibly strong.”

Behind Saturday’s exquisite showcase was a group of dedicated girls who have found a strong sense of community in the Aerial Dance Club. While some members came to college with prior experience in aerial dance, many found the club by chance and took the opportunity to learn a new skill. After joining the club, these girls found a hobby they are passionate about as well as lasting friendships and an uplifting support system.

“I joined my first semester of first year,” Dwyer said. “I saw it at the activities fair, and I was with my friends, and we all decided to do it together. I don't think I would have done it if my friends weren't doing it and that would have been a terrible mistake. All of the girls in [the Aerial Dance Club] click really well and are amazing people to be around.”

The camaraderie and support network within the Aerial Dance Club was overwhelmingly evident in the atmosphere of the fall showcase as members presented a red rose to each performer at the end of their piece and cheered each other on during the performances, yelling encouraging comments like, “So graceful” and “You look beautiful up there.” 

“The girls are really good at respecting your boundaries when trying new skills but also knowing when to push and when to really encourage you to keep going,” Dotson said. “The mindset of everybody encouraging each other all the time makes it a really positive and inclusive environment, and that's something that I feel isn't always present at U.Va., so it's really cool to be able to live that out through dance.”

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