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Dancing on air

At least 10 feet off the ground, Erica Cope pulls herself up and twists around two long pieces of silk fabric suspended from the ceiling. As she contorts her body and flips forward, she’s not thinking about the precarious distance between her and the floor, or even the next skill she’ll perform. Instead, she’s feeling the music and concentrating on creating an exciting performance for the audience below.

It’s not an overstatement to say that Cope is the linchpin in Buffalo’s burgeoning aerial community, having launched the first local studio, Buffalo Aerial Dance, and introduced many across town to the art form through her classes and performances.

“I love that aerial dance is challenging mentally and physically. You can accomplish things you never thought you could,” she said. “And, it’s really fun. I could list all of the credentials and reasons aerial dancing is good [for health and fitness], but I don’t want to overlook that it’s just fun.”

Aerial arts combine elements of dance, gymnastics, circus and other disciplines as athletes spin, pose and move on an apparatus that hangs from the ceiling. Common apparatuses include silks, hoop (or lyra), rope, aerial sling and static trapeze.

Dancing on air | Buffalo Aerial Dance | Buffalo Magazine

Jessica Bennett Gawronski is a trapeze instructor and performer with Buffalo Aerial Dance, located in the Great Arrow Building in Buffalo.

A Fredonia native, Cope discovered aerial dance living in Seattle and instantly fell in love with the expressive discipline. After performing for three years, she hoped to continue training when she returned to Buffalo for grad school in 2012, but couldn’t find any local studios. Undeterred, she and a few other dancers started practicing out of the Alt Theatre and booking sporadic performances.

As interest spread, she invested in additional equipment and training — including several intensive programs around the country — and taught herself the business and marketing aspects of running a studio. By 2014, Buffalo Aerial Dance was born.

Today, her studio has three part-time instructors and offers classes for children, teenagers and adults at varying skill levels and on several apparatuses. In addition, Buffalo Aerial Dance artists have performed at events including Elmwood Arts and Music is Art festivals, and at venues like the Hotel Lafayette, Statler City, Kleinhans and the Botanical Gardens.

“It’s about the physical feats, but it’s also aesthetically and visually pleasing,” said Cope, whose choreography mixes big, awe-inspiring moves with flowing, beautiful artistry. “Seeing it live, from people in your community, is awesome to witness what people are capable of.”

Eventually, Cope plans to move the studio inside the former Richmond Methodist-Episcopal Church, where work is underway to transform the space into a collaborative arts campus. In the meantime, she’s always striving for the next level in her own routines, and enjoys helping students reach their goals too — whether they’re beginners leaving the ground for the first time or advanced students spinning on a hoop like a pro.

“The other day I had a moment to myself in the studio, and I turned on my music and just kind of went nuts and saw what happened,” Cope said. “It just felt good. I’m feel like I’m 100 percent myself in those moments, and I like giving other people that opportunity.”

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