Washington and Lee Students Perform Aerial Dance

Lexington, VA- A crowd gathered Wednesday night at Washington and Lee University in Lexington after word got out that several students were going to fly off a building. And the students did fly, over and over again.

It was part of an aerial dance performance by the school's theatre and dance department. The performance, on the wall of their arts center, only happens once every four years. That's because the rope and harness cable systems used to make the students fly, are rigged by professionals, who cost a pretty penny. But, students say the feeling they get while performing these stunts, is priceless.

"My students and I explore what it means to travel through space using this type of apparatus," said Jenefer Davies, a professor of dance at Washington and Lee.

Rope and a harness is all that keeps the performers from actually breaking a leg. A harness and a lot of practice.

"We got together for eight hours every day. And by the second day, they were over their fear of heights and they were able to flip upside down. It was quite fast," said Davies.

Davies says before her students are allowed to strap into harnesses, they hit the gym.

"Initially we started out doing a lot of strength training movements because for aerial dance you need very strong abdominals and a very strong back."

Katie Zweier knows about training. She's been in sports her whole life. And though she says she's not much of a dancer, once she saw an aerial dancing performance, she was hooked.

"I just thought if they were going to offer the class again I would take the class," she said.

Zweier's lucky to catch the class when it includes an outdoor performance. She gets to work with some of the best rigging professionals in the industry.

"Wicked on Broadway. We've done some work for the recent Hangover 3 movie, Saturday Night Live, all sorts of stuff," said Jason Schumacher with ZFX Flying Effects.

Schumacher and his crew run the ropes, making sure everything goes according to rehearsal.

"Safety is our number one priority. It's the number one thing we do is keep people safe," he said.

And knowing you're safe makes the whole performance much more enjoyable.

"It's really fun. You're kind of weightless, jumping off the walls, sort of flying," said Zweier.

Jenefer Davies says one of the great things about her class is how diverse her students are. She says she has dancers, rock climbers, athletes, and even math majors sign up for aerial dance class.