Nancy Smith started the international Aerial Dance Festival in 1999 because she was “a little lonely.” She had founded Boulder’s Frequent Flyers aerial dance company about a decade prior. Back then, the few other aerial artists out there were scattered around the globe.
“I had this desire to bring together the community so that we could all learn from one another and share,” Smith said. “That very first year was a very magical moment of feeling like the lost tribes had all come together.”
The Aerial Dance Festival is considered the first of its kind, and the 21st edition of the event is underway in Boulder. Over the span of two weeks, aerial artists from around the world come to Colorado to take part in workshops focused on the dance trapeze, fabric, rope and even some invented equipment.
Smith said the festival is really about the people, from the students “who get fed in a deep way, make connections and have their minds blown” to the audiences that “get to experience these amazing artists.”
Since its inception, the festival has taught more than 3,600 students, produced work by more than 70 artists, draw approximately 18,000 audience members and inspired other aerial dance gatherings, Smith said.
Aerial dance emerged out of the postmodern dance movement, as artists began to explore ways to use and defy gravity. For Smith, aerial dance is “hard to define” because there are “so many expressions of the art form.” But she likes to use the analogy of a chemistry beaker to distinguish aerial dance from other dance forms.
“It fills the volume of the chemistry beaker all the way up. So we go all the way to the ceiling. We go all the way to the sides of the space. We are inhabiting the entirety of the stage.”
The 21st annual Aerial Dance Festival runs July 28 - Aug. 9, 2019, with a performance showcase open to the public Aug. 2 - Aug. 4, 2019.