The art of dancing in the air is becoming the future of modern dance as artists look to expand their abilities as dancers. Students in Johnson City, Tennessee, are some of the first to have the opportunity to study aerial dance, as the art form only began to take form in the late ‘90s.
The Department of Theater and Dance at ETSU offers aerial as part of the dance curriculum, and it is quickly becoming a focus in the dance department. ETSU is one of three universities in America that offers a traditional aerial program of aerial silks and trapeze.
Along with the classes offered at ETSU, students in Johnson City also have access to two independent aerial arts studios within minutes of campus. This combination has created a quickly expanding interest in aerial within the Johnson City area.
“One of the reasons I came to ETSU was the aerial program,” said Katie Rowe, a dance student at the university. “It’s exciting to be a part of something new and growing.”
Jen Kintner, who teaches dance at ETSU and owns Azure Aerial Arts Studio, believes that the rising popularity of aerial in the Johnson City area was born out of the opportunities that were found here.
“I came into it because we have a master rigger on the theatre staff who brought an aerialist here,” said Kintner. “And I was sort of given the mandate, you know, this is your future, and fell in love with it.”
Kintner is grateful that Dr. Delbert Hall, the master rigger, introduced ETSU to the aerial arts. This played a critical role in her own dance life and the lives of dancers at ETSU.
“So I had opportunity, I would say that if anything, that’s kind of the piece, is things blossom where there’s opportunity. I’m trying to create opportunities here at ETSU and at the studio,” said Kintner. “I wish we could expand the opportunities here for the students.”
As a teacher, Kintner focuses on the progress of her students; she loves when apprehensive students start climbing and learning in her classes. She enjoys being a part of helping her students to advance and grow.
“There are levels of growth in aerial. You grow physically, which is the technical, physical proficiency, learning the vocabulary, all of that stuff,” said Kintner. “Then there’s the mental which is being able to keep your head about you in the air, to know what the patterns are, what connects, all of the sort of ‘I can handle myself’ moments.”
Kintner looks for these developments, as well as emotional ones, in toning her students’ skills. This involves having the ability to decide what is healthy and safe for their bodies while in the air. Teachers and choreographers get excited when students begin to master these three areas.
“I’m looking for that development, and then there’s the whole creative aspect where you put all of that together. That’s what interests me, in terms of developing an aerial dancer,” said Kintner.
Craig Lewis, owner of the studio Johnson City Circus Arts, also finds joy in helping his students advance.
“My favorite thing about teaching aerial arts is helping students of diverse fitness backgrounds achieve things that they never thought were possible,” said Lewis. “Whether that’s getting their first pull-up, or overcoming a fear of heights, or perfecting a move that they’ve struggled with for a long time, it’s so rewarding to see their reactions when they realize they just did something that they didn’t think they could do.”
ETSU currently has 31 dance minors. Cara Harker, head of the dance department, states that the number of minors has grown as the dance program expands and looks forward to a new performing arts center and dance major at ETSU.
Dance students at ETSU love that aerial dance is part of the program, and they are grateful for the opportunities they have in the dance world because of it.
“At first, everything was extremely difficult and made no sense at all – how do you think when you’re upside down?” said Drake Parrott, a student at ETSU and at Azure. “But as time went on, it began to feel more natural; the air has become my home. I love the thrill of trusting my life to nothing but a piece of fabric and my own strength, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”
Theater and Dance at ETSU:
Support the ETSU Arts Initiative:
Azure Aerial Arts Studio:
Johnson City Circus Arts: