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Life as an amateur aerialist

I learn how to perform a split in the air during my aerial dance lesson in Hilbert College's William E. Swan Auditorium.
All is still in Hilbert College’s Swan auditorium, save for the imperceptible sway of red fabric suspended from the rafters.

I should not find the cloth intimidating — it looks like a pair of curtains, after all. Yet as I walk across the stage toward the fabric, my heart begins to pound. That is because I have agreed to climb the cloth, without the security of a harness or safety net, and perform circus-like acrobatics in a sensation known as aerial dance.

The fact that someone has agreed to teach me this astounds me. In school, I was the first one cut during cheerleading tryouts. I never made it to the top of the human pyramid. So I am not the girl to be hanging mid-air, attempting Cirque du Soleil stunts.

Yet my instructor, Kathleen Golde, assures me there is nothing to fear and that I am perfectly safe. Since she has been practicing aerial arts for nearly 15 years and has learned from some of the great pioneers of aerial, I am inclined to believe her.

Golde teaches aerial classes through the University at Buffalo, as well as workshops and private bookings for all ages and skill level. A founding member of the Buffalo Laboratory Theatre (which works out of Hilbert College), Golde uses her aerial dance skills as an eye-catching supplement to many of the theater company’s productions.

Yet working with the fabric, or aerial tissu, as Golde refers to it, is not about showing off impressive, gravity-defying feats, but about playing and having fun while giving your mind and body a workout.

“I think everyone dreams that they could fly. This is the closest way I know how,” says Golde as she effortlessly scales the tissu. She wraps herself up in the fabric while she climbs until she resembles a poorly bandaged mummy.

Without warning, Golde flips head over feet and releases the fabric, plummeting toward the stage floor. I want to cry out, but the movement is so graceful and full of beauty that my voice catches in my throat.
Kathleen Golde, professional aerial dancer and instructor of aerial arts. She also is the associate artistic director and co-founder of Buffalo Laboratory Theatre.

Golde doesn’t crash land. Instead, she is caught by her knees and by the knots she made in the fabric during her descent. She has just shown me one of the many tricks one can perform as an aerialist.

Now she tells me it’s my turn. My palms are sweaty and after watching my instructor soar through the air, I am more unsure of myself than when I started.

I start thinking about walking away and writing my column on something safer, such as the merits of herbal tea, or visit with my grandmother, when Golde senses my hesitation.

Aerial arts is about trusting the fabric and more importantly, trusting yourself, she tells me. She promises me I won’t fall.

And I don’t. Golde makes a knot in the tissu and I learn to stand, swing and even do a back-bend in the air. For something that looks so delicate, the fabric is sturdy and maintains my weight.

Then I learn to make a chair out of the fabric, pulling the sides toward me until I am completely cocooned.
Aerial tissu is very versatile. I like to use it to make a hammock for naps.
I could sway in this little self-made hammock forever, but soon enough Golde is shaking my nest, telling me its time to learn another trick.

Golde shows me how to correctly wrap my feet in two separate panels of fabric and stand. I resemble a hovering, shoeless cross-country skier.
Golde teaches me how to correctly make a foot wrap.

From this position, Golde encourages me to try my first flip. I am terrified. Holding up my own body with nothing more than a firm grip and my bound feet is tough and I am wishing desperately for a helmet.

“Trust your body,” Golde reminds me. I kick my right leg over my left and spin out into my very first aerial flip. It’s absolutely exhilarating.

I begin to experiment with more bends, flips and even splits. I am beginning to think my high school cheerleading squad didn’t realize what they were missing when they looked me over.

I can’t stop laughing as I twirl and bend, and I finally see why Golde considers aerial dance as “play.” It is the most bizarre dance and exercise class I have ever taken, and yet I can’t get enough of it.

When I ask Golde to teach me the more complicated moves that she will perform in the upcoming Buffalo Laboratory Theatre production, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” she smiles and informs me I have learned far more than she normally teaches in one day.

“Besides, you’re body is going to be killing you tomorrow,” she says.

She’s right again. I wake up the next morning feeling as if I have been stretched on a torture rack and held to an open flame. Yet I cannot wait for my next aerial lesson.

After all, once you get a taste of flying, you never want to give it up.


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