Young artists learn to fly in Bradenton

Week-long camp teaches aerial dance and stage flight

mclear@bradenton.comJuly 30, 2013 

BRADENTON -- It sounds like it would be a hoot and a half for a youngster, this week-long camp where they learn to fly through the air like Peter Pan, or do backflips while suspended above the floor by lengths of colorful fabric.

But most of the 16 young people attending the first Aerial, Dance & Flying Camp at the Manatee Performing Arts Center are taking it very seriously.

"As a performer, I was hoping to expand my abilities and be a more well-rounded performer, a triple-threat," said 13-year-old Abigail Zion.

She was on her lunch break the first day of the camp, which teaches dance, stage flight and aerial work through professionals from an Illinois company called Flying FX.

Most of the students -- three boys and 13 girls between the ages of 6 and 19 -- have experience in theater, dance or gymnastics, and are looking to add new skills to their repertoire. They signed up for five days of class from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day.

Hayley Faye, 13, describes herself as a "singer, dancer, actor and model." She was in the Manatee Players' production of "White Christmas" and has performed in an off-Broadway show.

"I've never done anything like this before," she said. "I thought it would be a good thing to learn."

The people from Flying FX usually work with young professionals, especially for a cruise line. Their students are typically dancers who need to learn aerial work, or actors who need to learn stage flight (which means flying suspended from a wire, Peter Pan-style) or aerial dance (which mostly means they're wrapped in long strips of fabrics hung from the ceiling).

It's all important stuff for performers to learn these days.

Jennifer Kelly, one of three teachers at the camp, said stage flight and aerial dance are becoming essential parts of theater, and the demand for skilled and trained performers is increasing.

"There was a time when 80 percent of the shows on Broadway had flight in them," Kelly said. "And it was just a few years ago."

Because audiences have seen so much stage flight in theater, and so much aerial dance from companies such as Cirque du Soleil, they demand more complicated maneuvers today.

"You can't just glide above the stage anymore," Kelly said. "You need to do twirls and backflips."

It's harder than it looks. When teacher Jason Whicker hooked a couple of students up to a wire and lifted them off the ground, they were noticeably uncomfortable just hanging there without even trying to move.

But after a week of intensive training at this camp, Kelly said, students will have an advantage over other performers for roles requiring aerial skills.

Several camp students said they intend to audition for coming Manatee Players productions of "Peter Pan" and "Shrek," and they hope the skills they learn in camp give them an advantage in auditions and performances.

Flying FX has contracted with the Manatee Players to store equipment at the performing arts center year-round, Kelly said. That long-term relationship makes it likely that the summer flying camp will be back next year.

Even though the camp is hard work, and some say it's harder than expected, the students say they're loving it.

"Although this is the first day, I can tell it's going to be a lot of fun," Zion said. "I can't wait to fly across the stage."

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-749-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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