Local duo to debut aerial classes
- Published: March 25, 2023
If you’ve ever wondered how it feels to dance in midair, you may get your chance starting this month: On March 27, villagers Maya Trujillo and Kayla Graham will begin offering aerial movement classes at the Wellness Center, where folks can learn to hoist themselves high via aerial fabrics.
The duo of creatives — Trujillo, with a background in dance and circus arts, and Graham, with a background in theater and stage movement — came together last year when both worked with students on the YS Schools’ production of “Peter Pan and Wendy.” That production employed the use of harnesses and aerial fabrics to communicate flight and underwater movement, under Trujillo’s instruction, as well as dashing stage swordplay, coordinated by Graham.
“We worked really well together and wanted to find more ways to partner,” Graham told the News in an interview with both artists last week. “Maya asked, ‘Do you want to learn aerial?’ And I was like, “Abso-freaking-lutely!”
Trujillo came to Yellow Springs by way of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Born and raised there, she told the News that she had studied dance — ballet, Flamenco, modern — in her youth, and had intended to pursue dance as a career. When she left high school at 17 before graduating, she said she wasn’t sure what was next for her — until she met Canadian artist Nisha Ferguson, the founder of aerial circus troupe GravityWorks.
“Like a lot of foreigners, [Ferguson] had moved to San Miguel because it’s an artsy town,” Trujillo said. “She saw that I was struggling, and she said, ‘Come to circus class.”
At first, Trujillo was hesitant — “I was like, ‘No, I’m a dancer, I don’t do gymnastics or whatever it is you guys do,’” she said — but Ferguson won her over, and soon she was learning aerial acrobatics, trapeze and other circus arts.
“The studio became a second home to me — I was there every single day,” Trujillo said. “It became like a little family.”
Trujillo said she soon learned that, as much as she enjoyed performing aerial movement, she really loved teaching it. Trujillo took the reins at GravityWorks’ school for young performers, teaching not only aerial arts, but such skills as fire spinning and hula hoop.
By the time she was 20, however, Trujillo said she was ready for a change; she moved to Chicago, where she spent the next seven years teaching at Aerial Dance Chicago and eventually becoming the school’s youth company director.
Though their paths never crossed, Graham said she was also in Chicago at the same time as Trujillo; she studied theater at Columbia College Chicago. While there, she said, she experienced theater that employed aerial movement in its storytelling, and hoped that one day she could learn the skill herself.
“Fast-forward 10 years, and my opportunity showed itself,” she said.
Having grown up in Yellow Springs, Graham said her time in Chicago made her wonder: “Why can’t we have quality theater in places that aren’t major cities?” With that in mind, after college, Graham returned to the Miami Valley, becoming one of the founders of the Yellow Springs Theater Company, and later joined the Dayton Theater Guild and the Columbus-based all-female improv troupe Sassy Do.
“I’m really into creating things that I want to see — I felt like I got lost in the shuffle in the bigger cities, and I didn’t have the confidence or knowledge to create what I wanted,” Graham said. “It’s been really empowering to come to my hometown and create the theater that I want to see and be a part of.”
As Graham settled into the local and wider Ohio theater scene, Trujillo moved back to San Miguel; she had been tapped by GravityWorks’ director to take over the company. She ran the circus school for a few months.
“Then COVID hit and we lost the studio,” Trujillo said. “And I was just kind of like, ‘What do I do with my life?’”
When a friend invited her to come to Yellow Springs, Trujillo said, she took a chance. It was a gamble — she didn’t know anyone in the village, and the pandemic made it difficult to meet new people. Then, she said, she met local dancer and choreographer Jaimie Wilkie, who introduced her to performing arts teacher and “Peter Pan and Wendy” director Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp.
“My spark came back,” Trujillo said of teaching aerial movement to the young actors in the “Peter Pan and Wendy” cast. “I thought, ‘This is what I’ve always wanted to do.’”
Graham said, in working with Trujillo on the student production, the two felt an easy kinship — and a mutual desire to build a new creative community in the home they both loved.
“I’m really into storytelling through movement, and we just found that we had a lot of crossover and also different things that we can bring to creating something like aerial dance in Yellow Springs,” Graham said.
“I’m really new to the theater side of it,” Trujillo added. “But I’m very impressed and would love to utilize [Graham’s] skills to make something bigger.”
That “something bigger,” the two said, is a longterm goal to create an aerial community in Yellow Springs, including a school and youth ensemble that performs in and around the village. The first step in that goal, however, is to introduce more people to aerial movement through their classes.
For Graham, who is newer to the practice than her counterpart, learning aerial movement under Trujillo’s guidance has not only taught her more about that skill, she said, but also about herself. She credited Trujillo’s gentle support and simple pedagogical approach: Everyone learns at their own pace and in their own time.
“I would push myself to learn something I didn’t think I was capable of doing — and then I would do it,” Graham said. “It’s an environment where you feel like you learn to trust yourself, and it’s a safe place to fail and learn through the failure. [Trujillo] is able to see where she can challenge you to move to the next thing, but in a way that you feel confident and comfortable to get there.”
She added: “I’m afraid of heights, but for some reason, dangling on fabric from the ceiling, I’m like, ‘I feel fine up here!’”
Trujillo said she’s spoken to folks who are interested in learning aerial movement, but who are intimidated — either by heights, like Graham, or by the skill and strength required to stay aloft on the aerial fabrics. She added that she’s seen folks of a whole range of ages and body types learn aerial movement skills in her years of practice.
“I want people to understand that I don’t want this to be a fitness class,” Trujillo said. “It might take you a while to get somewhere small, like lifting yourself or climbing, but you’re not expected to get that on the first day — you might not even get it the first year. Finding movements through aerial and fabric is a whole journey.”
Trujillo and Graham aim for their first class to be a drop-in affair, where interested people can get a feel for the fabric and practice simple, repetitive movements. After that, they aim to teach eight-week courses for both beginners and intermediate learners.
Trujillo said she wants to stress that she doesn’t consider aerial movement a field for competitiveness, but rather for celebrating what an individual can do on their own terms.
“I think circus is great, because you’re there to lift each other up — literally,” she said. “I think anyone can do it.”
Graham added: “I think a lot of times we think that, if our thing looks different than someone else’s, that it’s not valuable. But really, that’s what makes it valuable.”
For more information on Trujillo and Graham’s upcoming aerial movement classes, go to antiochcollege.edu/wellness-center or gravityworkscircus.com.
2 Responses to “Local duo to debut aerial classes”
I’ll be there to accomplish flying through the air on some threads just as soon as I master picking up sticks with my butt cheeks.
Great article and thanks for the gravityworks mentions! Love that circus is spreading everywhere. Maya was an intrinsic part of Gravityworks here in SMA