Melecio Estrella, the associate artistic director of Oakland, California–based vertical dance company BANDALOOP, has been an aerial dancer for 15 years. With aerial dance becoming increasingly popular, Estrella shares five things to consider before jumping into an apparatus and up into the sky.
1. Build your core. BANDALOOP dancers are supported by a pelvic harness attached to a rope, so strong core muscles are essential. "The question becomes how can you constantly be engaged in your core and then be able to free up the rest of your body on top of that?" says Estrella, who incorporates Pilates into his pre-aerial ritual.
2. Take time to mobilize your spine. "We use a lot of techniques from modern dance and yoga to mobilize the spine and warm up the muscles that run along the side of it," says Estrella. "That's really important for the spine to be strong and free in a horizontal orientation."
3. Cooling down is key. In Estrella's case, the work is so demanding because he holds his body sideways. Taking time to shift orientation to gravity and recuperate after flying is all that much more important. He and other company members use yoga, breath work and somatic practices to cool down.
Estrella performing with PINK at the American Music Awards. Photo by Katherine Barcsay, courtesy of BANDALOOP
4. Participate in dance practices that support aerial work. Estrella cites contemporary, modern dance and contact improvisation as great supplemental dance practices for aerial work. "Dancers need to have an honest relationship with gravity and a multidimensional awareness," he says. "There should be comfort being upside down and comfort being sideways."
5. Prioritize safety. "I would advise dancers to be diligent about safety practices and to take care of their bodies. Take a workshop with us or with a company that's well-established in their safety language and protocols," he says. "The thing about the work is that it looks risky, but it's really not."