Dancing on Air
Extreme aerialists are going to such great heights
By Linda Koffman
It’s a hypnotic craft revered by many but mastered by few, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t instantly awed by the ethereal vision of an aerialist dangling on silks to defy gravity. Art in motion finds a home in the sky when these limbs stretch out with ballet elegance and brave athleticism. Add to the mesmerizing mix some of nature’s most heart-palpitating scenes as backdrops to a daring performer taking flight, and the fusion of feminine grace and extreme sports adrenaline is unparalleled. Engaging with cliffs, forests, planes and even parrots, here are four magnetizing extreme aerialists explaining some of their favorite feats of dancing on air.
Cynthia Currie @Cyncurriebird
Cynthia Currie doesn’t just like challenging herself, she likes paving new paths as a pioneer in what are already cutting-edge sports. The self-described “professional bird” is a professional skydiver, BASE jumper and paraglider, and today she infuses them with aerial silks maneuvers.
Last February, Currie kicked off a stunt in Southern California by jumping out of a plane 13,000 feet in the air with her tandem parachute partner Matt Blank. She then launched below Blank to unleash her aerialist skills above the clouds. “I got to perform silks for about five minutes before I dropped off the silks and deployed my own parachute,” Currie recalls. As if that wasn’t enough, completing that challenge led her to the idea of combining aerial silks with BASE for the first time. So, in October, Currie let her silks loose on the other side of the globe to perform a seven-minute routine 1,000 feet up off the Kuala Lumpur Tower in Malaysia. She says performing on such a renowned national monument in plain view of a city provided great exposure. “It was not only a legal event but we were treated as professional athletes and celebrated guests, unlike in the United States, [which] mostly treats BASE jumpers as vagrants.” She adds, “It won’t be my last aerial BASE performance … but it was a perfect first.”
Lei Lei de Kirby @Leileide
We’re all familiar with the magic of the redwoods, but Lei Lei de Kirby communes with the beloved NorCal bark in ways that make them even more breathtaking than they already are. Having grown up in the Bay Area and lived in Aptos, the aerialist describes herself as a “forest creature.” It makes sense, then, that she favors rigging in the Santa Cruz redwoods. “It feels like home in the redwoods,” she says, and that’s where the full-time aerial performer experiences the natural high of juxtaposing her passions for the great outdoors and dance. “Training or performing with just the forest floor beneath me, huge old trees surrounding me, and nothing but birds as high as I am is incredible,” she begins. “In those blissful present moments everything else melts away. There’s a dropping-in that happens; a freedom, a flow, a very powerful state.” Meeting the challenges that come with using looming ancient tree branches as her anchor, the performer says it is when taking observers’ breaths away that she finds her own. “It is in the wilderness that I can really breathe; connecting with the Earth is profoundly spiritual for me and creating art in nature lights me up. It doesn’t matter the tricks or how high you get, it’s about the experience creating in nature.”
Samantha Melendy @Ms.ladyjane
Samantha Melendy has literally been dreaming to fly since she was a kid. “My most vivid dreams as a child were the ones where I flew like a bird through the jungles and across canyons, spiraling upward and downward with ease,” she tells Waves. “So it was no surprise that birds fascinated me as a youngster.” Her first encounter with a blue and gold macaw was at the age of 7. Her first encounter with an aerialist was at the age of 21. “I knew I wanted to learn how to maneuver through the air just like her,” Melendy remembers. “The only problem is I had no idea what it was called at the time. Serendipitously, a week later a girlfriend invited me to an aerial silks class.” These days she’s pairing up the two inspirations. Back when she was first training on the silks, her free-flying pet macaw, Cali, would curiously swoop around her. Now the 6-year-old bird is her partner in performance. Melendy, who is an aerial silks teacher at Carmel’s Om Studios and professional pet trainer, says she can’t imagine keeping her bird caged, and the two have spread their wings in tandem in Maui, Costa Rica and Mendocino forests. “I have seen so much joy and freedom in my own bird to ever look back,” she says. “My practice with aerial silks and animal training continues to grow stronger every day.”
Allie Cooper @Ayeleleyee
When Allie Cooper went to Spain in 2011, her friend, a competitive rock climber and aerialist, took her to a popular climbing route in Rodellar. “It was his favorite place … I didn’t have much choice—we were going!” Not one to turn down a challenge, she suddenly found herself dangling from a rock about 200 feet tall alongside a massive gorge. “It was really windy that day,” she describes. “I played it safe and only did moves that I was 100-percent confident performing.” Cooper lives in La Selva Beach and co-owns The Radical Movement Factory aerial studio. While her primary discipline is aerial rope (known as corde lisse), the eight-year aerial veteran also trains with aerial silks and assorted invented apparatus for more decorative circus visuals. In addition to Santa Cruz and Spain, she has taken her aerial tricks across the map—performing and teaching in Europe, Mexico and Thailand.