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Auburn Theatre & Dance students reach new heights in aerial fabrics course


From original theatre productions to mainstage dance concerts, Auburn University Theatre and Dance students have ample opportunity to hone their skills. With the addition of an aerial fabrics course, Auburn students can literally elevate their performance.

Aerial fabrics is an art form in which a performer maneuvers mid-air on two long strips of fabric that hang from the ceiling. Sydney Pereira, a recent musical theatre graduate, took the course during her senior year to build muscle and balance.

"It's super fun. It's something different," Pereira said. "I love silks because it's moving your body in a way that you wouldn't otherwise. You're using different muscles, and you also just feel so strong after. That's something really special and has been really inspirational for me as I've been stepping into the world of dancing and movement, is just feeling strong and confident."

Aerial fabrics improve core strength, balance and flexibility. Pereira said she easily transferred those skills to jazz and ballet performances, and hopes the experience helps her stand out when auditioning for future musical theatre roles.

"A big part of the class is conditioning, so I really want to build up my strength and my skills, have some new things to put on my resume," Pereira said. "I have some friends who graduated, who said having it on their resume was really influential when they were auditioning for places. One of my friends was on Royal Caribbean and that was a big part of her training, her auditioning and preparation before going on the cruise, which is really cool to learn about."

The class design includes benchmarks throughout the year for students to become level one aerial fabrics performers. By the end of the course, students have built the necessary muscles to complete conditioning exercises, demonstrate proper form on the fabrics, climb and hold themselves up in the air, and "tie in" – wrapping their feet in the silks to support their body weight without using their hands.

Senior Lecturer Jeri Dickey directs the class through one-on-one instruction to help students navigate the demanding, but rewarding, practice.

"They get as much out of it as they put in, as their body will let them, because everybody's different," Dickey said. "The way I felt in silks class is you feel the best and the worst about yourself in that one session class because some of the things are just very humbling and it just doesn't connect. Then, other things you feel like a superstar because you get it and feel like the strongest person ever."

Skills learned in aerial fabrics can also be used as a form of physical therapy or to elevate a production. Dickey said the course not only develops individual performers but also offers a unique experience for audiences at the Department of Theatre and Dance’s productions.

"We are one of the only colleges in the country that have aerial silks as part of a curriculum and that can put it into shows without hiring guest artists to try to come and teach it," Dickey said. "We've used it for different things that aren't necessarily dance or trick oriented, but they serve the dramatic purpose of telling the story. When we did 'Chicago' several years ago, we incorporated that into the choreography, and it just added a depth and element of shock. We also used them in 'Pippin,' which gave it a very big cirque feel."

Connor Dealy '19 started his aerial journey at Auburn. Today, he is an aerial choreographer, trainer and supervisor at On the FLY Productions with Carnival Cruise Line Entertainment. His responsibilities include creating choreography, teaching cast members and implementing and aiding aerial safety with the technical team for the Carnival Celebration, Mardi Gras and Jubilee cruise ships.

Dealy said Auburn not only taught him the fundamentals of fabric theory and conditioning, but how to teach others to succeed in aerial performance.

"Without these classes, I would not be where I am today," Dealy said. "I was able to not only take the courses, but assist in leading and teaching the students coming in. This would be a massive benefit in my career, as I work with everyone from tenured professionals in circus to people who have never once touched an apparatus, and I have to ensure that they feel safe, confident and are competent in their tracks in order to perform."

Dealy worked closely with Dickey, who trained with him almost every day and prepared Dealy to pass an aerial teaching certification test. He advises students to take advantage of her expertise and support while at Auburn and find opportunities to branch out to always keep improving.

"If you want to become an aerialist and perform professionally, do not stop at Auburn," Dealy said. "If you travel somewhere, find a class during vacation. Try new and different apparatus. Understand that Auburn is a small pond and the world of circus performing is massive. Celebrate the tiniest of wins because improvement and success is never linear."

Find more information about Theatre & Dance at the College of Liberal Arts website.

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