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Aerial artists find skills and grounding in modern dance class

woman flying through the air on silks at a show in the Madison Circus Space

When Madison-area aerialists and circus artists come down from their silks, hoops, and trapeze, some of them get grounded at UW–Madison Continuing Studies dance classes.

Several students in the fall 2019 Modern Dance Technique 1 class are active members of the Madison circus community who took this class to improve their skills and be in community with other artists.

“Modern dance is a fantastic foundation for aerial dance, and I love every chance I can get to move my body in a new way,” says Liz Reynolds. “I got so much inspiration from taking this class!”

Body positive class

The Modern Dance Technique 1 class helps students build confidence and creativity through dance. Students learn floor and standing warm-ups then progress to standing exercises in the center, movement across the floor, and multi-faceted movement phrases. Dancers explore space, time, and energy while developing coordination, physical alignment, movement flow, and familiarity with the vocabulary of modern dance.

The upcoming spring class starts February 5 and runs 12 weeks through April 29. Classes are Wednesdays 5:30-7 p.m. at the Madison Circus Space, 2082 Winnebago St., Madison.

“We’re excited to be offering the modern dance class at the Madison Circus Space for the first time this semester—it’s a wonderful opportunity to foster connections between different artistic disciplines, be part of a creative community, and to dance in a beautiful new space,” says Jess Courtier, interim director of noncredit programming at UW–Madison Continuing Studies. “But the class is open to everybody, regardless of their movement background. No previous experience is necessary, and we welcome people from all backgrounds in this body positive class.”

Welcoming space

Reynolds started aerial dance four years ago at the Madison Circus Space. She’s also a member of Cycropia Aerial Dance. She says modern dance was a perfect place to explore movement from a new perspective and, “I’ve had more than a few friends and fellow circus artists take this course, and they all highly recommend it. The instructor was fantastic and fellow students help create a comfortable and collaborative environment.”

Jeannette Heffernan is 67 and has taken modern and jazz dance classes throughout her life. She’s a fan of low-flying trapeze classes at Madison Circus Space. Heffernan has taken many dance classes from Continuing Studies over the past decade and appreciates how the modern dance class complemented her aerial work, adding, “The bodily strength that is developed through dance can improve many different movement disciplines, including aerial arts.”

Stephanie Speicher, another aerial artist, came to the modern dance class to improve artistic form, grace, and choreography. She found modern dance to be the perfect tool to build these skills.

“In aerial movement, just like in groundwork, there’s a lot of movement memorization. Taking the modern dance class almost felt like a supplement in that it was a healthy addition to my circus work that would ultimately make me a stronger performer,” Speicher says.

All of these high-flying artists found a safe, welcoming and fun space to land in the modern dance class.

Joy of dance

“There is an innate joy that comes with moving your body to music,” Speicher adds. “This is what I enjoyed the most in the class, followed by the growing ability to remember and execute movements taught to us by our very talented teacher.”

Heffernan says one of the most meaningful lessons from the modern dance class was to “focus on the pleasure of movement and avoid being self-conscious about what you cannot do.”

For more information and to register, see the Modern Dance Technique 1 page> or see all the dance and movement offerings from Continuing Studies.