Danny Reinan, Staff Writer
On the evening of Nov. 1, a group of seven Augsburg students astounded audiences with their aerial acrobatics.
The students performed in aerial hammocks, which are silks tied in a teardrop shape and rigged to the ceiling. In these hammocks, performers are able to achieve acrobatic feats through maneuvers such as poses, climbs, wraps and drops. The students showed their acrobatic skills through a number of different routines throughout the night.
First, they demonstrated sequences of poses that they had learned. Then, they were given the freedom to improvise their own choreography to the song “Feeling Good” by Michael Bublé. The improvisers all had different takes on this song, but many had a flair for the dramatic in their performances, whipping their heads back and flinging their legs outward when the music dropped. Finally, the performers came together to perform choreography that they had crafted together to the song “You Don’t Own Me” by Grace, showcasing all of the techniques that they had learned in the workshops.
Many of the students who decided to check out the aerial hammock workshops did so because they were looking for a different way to stay active. Nou-Chee Chang was one such student. “I was looking for an alternative workout method, and this clicked with me,” she said. “I fell in love. It fulfilled my artistic needs, but also my health needs.” When the time came during the performance to improvise, Chang says that she felt invigorated and inspired – an experience that she would not have had through a more traditional workout method.
Calvin Denson Lehman was another student who felt empowered throughout the workshops. He wasn’t initially going to attend the workshops, but his friend, Christa Kelly, encouraged him to try one session and see how he felt. “I secretly wanted to do it, so I ended up coming,” he said. He had so much fun with that initial session that he ended up coming back, week after week, and improved dramatically as a result. “I wasn’t expecting it to be so much exercise,” he said. “But it’s really, actually doable in a way I wasn’t expecting and it’s fun. I’m able to do things I couldn’t do before. I’m getting a lot stronger and a lot more confident with the way my body moves.”
While the students were progressing as performers and aerialists, Beliza Torres Narvaez, a Theater professor at Augsburg, was progressing right alongside them. While she had experience as an aerial student and experience as a teacher of many disciplines, she had never taught aerial performance before. “Even though I was teaching movements I knew how to do, it’s a completely different experience teaching the mechanics of a movement,” Torres said. The experience required her to take moves that she instinctively knew in her body and put them into words that the students could understand and draw upon. Observing the progression of her students was one of the most fulfilling parts of the experience for Torres. At the beginning of the workshop series, only one student was able to do a pull-up onto the hammock from a sitting position – but by the end, nearly the entire class could.
Aerial hammock workshops are scarce and expensive. The students involved in the aerial hammock workshops were able to seize a unique opportunity to build their strength, grow as artists and make connections with each other, while dazzling an eager audience in the process and introducing unique forms of performance into the community.
This article was originally published in the November 8, 2019 issue.