UNH has a rare hidden gem that is uncommon across other campuses throughout the U.S. that permits students to reach for the sky and defy gravity. Literally.
The UNH Theatre and Dance Department offers a unique spin on their dance program that allows students to take their conditioning, technique, and artistry to a whole new level. This level, so to speak, just so happens to be in the air; where dancers perform amongst silk fabrics, lyra hoops, and trapezes that will leave you captivated in the beauty and strength demanded by this art form.
Gay Nardoneis the jazz, tap and aerial professor at the University of New Hampshire. Nardone began her aerialist training seventeen years ago under the supervision and instruction of two professionals.
“I was introduced to two Cirque Du Soleil aerialists that were starting a circus arts program in Vermont. I began studying with them immediately and have been working with them ever since.”
It was through this introduction to aerial dance that encouraged Nardone to share the art form with her students by officially establishing the UNH aerial arts program in 2002. “I always wanted to fly…The opportunity presented itself, and I knew my students would also love to learn to fly!”
UNH’s program is unique amongst others, as there exists only a select few schools that offer both dance and aerial. “According to Dance Magazine, there are less than five universities that offer aerial in their dance programs,” Nardone confirms.
The aerialist program is open to any student who has taken dance courses as pre-requisites, and who is either a rising sophomore, junior, or senior. The course, called “THDA 665 Aerial Dance,” is held three times a week for 2 hours per class, and offers 2 full credits per semester.
To broaden the aerialist community and extend the art to others with no experience, Nardone will be offering an additional course for the first time that introduces aerial to non-dancers. This class is called “THDA 592A Special Topics Beginning Aerial Dance,” and will be available in the Fall of 2019.
Tori Dumoulin is a senior at UNH studying Social Work with a duel minor in Dance and Psychology. Not only is she the co-caption of UNH’s Dance Company, but she is also a leading mentor for dance and aerialist students. Dumoulin notes that she was introduced to the program her freshman year and became enthralled in the art ever since.
“I went to the aerial showcase my freshman year and said to myself, ‘I have to do this!’ I just remember being amazed by how talented the aerialists were. I wanted to look and feel as strong as them.”
Dumoulin had no training or experience prior to attending UNH, but through the coaching and unwavering support of both Nardone and her aerialist peers, she excelled in the program, and worked her way up the ropes to become one of the lead aerialists.
Once enrolled in the program, dancers invest a significant amount of time into practicing both inside and outside of the studio in order to keep their bodies in tune to the physical demands of aerial.Joann Snyder, a senior Communication Sciences and Disorders major with minors in Deaf Studies and Dance, is the second captain for UNH’s Dance Company who doubles as an aerialist student. Snyder comments that strength is one of the biggest challenges that aerialist dancers face.
“There is an insane amount of upper body and core strength that goes into every single move we do in class or in any piece. It can be extremely challenging to string multiple physically demanding moves one after another into a fluid piece.”
Nardone confirms this challenge, explaining with great detail the extent of training and conditioning that aerial entails.
“Aerialists come to class three times a week for two-hour classes. They may also rehearse if they are performing which can be anywhere from 2-6 hours weekly. The strengthening of the upper body and core work is dependent on how quickly the aerialist progresses, so additional strength building exercises outside of class is always encouraged.”
Despite the art form’s physical demands, Snyder clarifies that it is overcoming this exact challenge of strength that is the ultimate accolade of aerial. “The biggest reward is building up the strength to properly execute a difficult skill you’ve been working on all semester. Also, putting all the moves you’ve learned throughout the semester into a piece and showcasing it to family and friends is incredibly rewarding.”
In light of Snyder’s reference to the performance aspect of aerial, there are various opportunities hosted by the dance program at UNH that showcase the extraordinary skillsets and incredible artistry students obtain. There is an aerial showcase at the end of each semester, and aerialists who are in the university’s official dance company perform in their annual spring dance concert.
These performances aren’t limited to the parameters of the dance studio and indoor theatre, however. In fact, Nardone has encouraged her students to reach new heights by performing all year long with stand-alone rigging equipment at different venues. These venues include the outside lawn in front of Thompson Hall during University Day, the Whittemore Center, and “any outdoor space and any building on campus where there is enough height and floor space to set [the aerial equipment] up.”
Nardone is aware that there are current students interested in the aerial dance program but who have not yet enrolled. Her response to this is “To do it! [Students] will love it, and aerial will challenge your body and mind. You will become much more aware of your body and gain the strength to develop skills to become aerialists.”
Kayla Rosa, a student at UNH, exemplifies how students can successfully learn and adapt to the aerialist program – no matter what age or level of experience one may have. Rosa, a senior Finance major with a dual minor in Green Real Estate and Dance, decided to enroll in aerial dance for her final semester of college. While Rosa is a member of the UNH Dance Company, she had no aerial experience prior to taking this class. She admits that she was reluctant to join the program for this reason, amongst others.
I was really afraid to enroll in the class because I was scared of heights. I did not want to let my fears stop me from such an incredible opportunity. “
Rosa, who is aware that UNH is one of the only schools to offer such an incredible opportunity, decided to take Nardone’s advice and push past her preconceive notions. “I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity presented to me at the university. I wanted to accomplish something that I thought I would never be able to do.”
Dumoulin is also a strong advocate to get students to join and support the program. She resonates with those who are fearful of challenging themselves to join an aerial class, but reassures that the hard work is worth it and is achievable with the right mindset.
“Don’t worry! I was scared too, but if you are willing to put the work in, I promise you won’t ever want to leave the program. This program has made me feel strong and empowered, and I really hope everyone a part of it feels the same. Plus, who would turn down a really fun way to get in shape?”
The aerialist program at UNH offers students a unique opportunity and resume builder that allows them to take their artistry, strength, and love for dance to the next level. Just as she stated in her reasoning behind introducing aerial arts to the school, Nardone wanted to provide her students of alllevels the opportunity to fly high, reach for the stars, and go above and beyond in their artistic pursuits - both literally andfiguratively.
And fly high, they do.
Image Courtsey: Ron St. Jean Photography // http://www.ronstjeanphotography.com