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U.Va.’s Aerial Dance Club is taking artistry to new heights

The club stuns in their ability to create strong bonds and celebrate a unique art form

<p>Stemming from acrobatics, aerial dance requires performers to climb pieces of suspended fabric and contort themselves in the air.</p>

Stemming from acrobatics, aerial dance requires performers to climb pieces of suspended fabric and contort themselves in the air.

A world of gymnastics, intense movements and flowing silks exists here in Charlottesville, thanks to the University’s Aerial Dance Club. Since the group’s initial founding in 2012, the small club with a strong sense of community has masterfully weaved aerial into the fabric of the University dance scene. Through practices, end of semester showcases and, on occasion, performances on South Lawn, the club beautifully showcases their unique and intricate artform on Grounds.

Stemming from acrobatics, aerial dance requires performers to climb pieces of suspended fabric and contort themselves in the air. A combination of athleticism and grace, the dance style is a physically demanding one, requiring a great amount of upper body strength and a command of the silks to achieve the dance’s distinguishable fluid and lyrical look. 

Julia Tucker, Aerial Dance Club president and third-year College student, said that months of physically taxing work goes into perfecting the routines and skills in their performances. 

“I think it's kind of funny because we get two different reactions [from spectators]. Sometimes people are like, ‘Oh, that looks really difficult.’ But then sometimes it's like, ‘Oh, I could totally do that,’” Tucker said. “So I think admiring the work that we put into what we do [is important] … when you're watching the performance, you aren't seeing the hours of work that go into it.”

While the dance style may sound intimidating, Tucker said that a key aspect in attracting dancers to the club is their openness to students of all experience levels. Tucker shared that she herself was a newcomer to aerial when she first joined the club and had only ever practiced tap or jazz up to that point.

“I had never ever touched any aerial apparatus before joining the aerial dance team,” Tucker said. “And that's actually a very common experience amongst our members.”

Tucker said that because of the club’s niche nature and welcoming environment, it has become extremely popular. However, Tucker explained the club can only have a maximum of 20 students because of insurance reasons, making a spot on the team highly coveted. 

To make the admittance of new members into the group unbiased, Tucker said the club has implemented a lottery-based system to ensure that everyone interested in joining — no matter their background or relationship with aerial prior to joining — has a fair chance. At the beginning of each semester, prospective members fill out an application form to enter the lottery.

“So many people apply that we do a lottery because we want to be equitable,” Tucker said. “We don't want to [give] preference if you've had aerial experience because doing aerial is really expensive — we want to give [everyone] the opportunity to do it.” 

Because of the club’s small number of dancers, members have fostered a close community within the University. While Selah Mitchell — the club’s financial chair and third-year College student — said that roughly half of the club’s dancers graduated last year, she also said that this year the team has worked on rebuilding and maintaining the tight-knit nature that is integral to the group’s dynamic.

“We wanted to work on doing … different social events to make the younger members, or underclassmen feel welcome and a part of the U.Va. community,” Mitchell said. “[We want members to] know there's a safe space within our team and there's someone to talk to or laugh with and stuff like that.”

According to Sneha John, the club’s vice president and fourth-year College student, the Ariel Dance Club has provided a social and supportive environment. She said that her favorite aspect of the club are the friendships it has brought her. John said that what has backdropped her favorite memories of learning difficult moves and performing at the club’s showcases are the bonds that she has created with her fellow aerialists. 

“We all enjoy aerial dance, but also we somehow all really enjoyed becoming friends with each other on a larger scale,” John said. “These truly are the people who will be by my side for the rest of my life and for that I will be forever grateful to U.Va. Aerial Dance.” 

Along with working hard to perfect their craft and cultivate a strong group bond, Tucker said that the group is also making more of an effort to increase their visibility outside of the dance-sphere at the University. According to Tucker, the group would love the opportunity to perform for other organizations in the future. 

“I think long term [a goal would be] maybe just growing our presence at U.Va. We have an Instagram account, but maybe growing that in size,” she said. 

The future of aerial dance at the University is bright, as the club will continue to captivate students and community members alike. Students interested in becoming a part of the group will have a chance to enter their lottery in the fall. Until then, updates of the club and videos of the club’s performances can be found on their Instagram, YouTube and Facebook pages. 


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