While students often spend class time in lecture, taking notes and writing essays, Associate Professor of Movement Nick Erickson’s students spend class performing acrobatic stunts while suspended as high as 27 feet in the air.
Aerial silks is a type of performance art using fabric hung from the ceiling. Since its invention in 1995, the art is used mainly in circus performances, with aerialists climbing, dropping and contorting their bodies on the silks. Erickson began teaching aerial silks in 2003 and now receives the help of Dance Professional-in-Residence Claudio Ribiero da Salva, a Brazilian dancer who co-instructs using his personal background in acrobatics.
Erickson was inspired to bring acrobatic dance to the University following his career as a founding member of Diavolo Dance Company, in which he toured nationally in venues like the Joyce Theater in New York City. In 2002, Erickson left the company to be head of movement for the MFA acting program at the University.
“I found that the undergrads were sometimes even more exciting to work with because of their raw enthusiasm, eagerness to learn and willingness to try crazy things,” Erickson said. “People were breaking bones in my class, and I was trying to find ways to minimize that.”
Erickson created the aerial silks class after meeting an aerial silks artist who taught him five moves. Erickson said he immediately bought his own silks and began teaching the art to any student who was interested.
Since then, he has created the courses Aerial Silks Practice I and II, and now has a studio in the Music and Dramatic Arts Building dedicated to acrobatic art. Erickson also has the help of Ribiero.
Ribiero first started as a dancer at 16 years old in Rio De Janeiro. His involvement in world-renowned dance companies such as the Deborah Colker Dance Company and the Ana Vitória Contemporary Company led to his work in trapeze art and aerial silks. He came to the U.S. after falling in love with his husband, who he has been with for 16 years.
Ribiero followed his husband to Baton Rouge and began teaching dance classes at the University. He has co-instructed the aerial silks class with Erickson for two years.
“He’s a brother I didn’t know I had,” Ribiero said. “We have the same key chain, we worked in similar dance companies [and] have the same wallet. We also have a similar way to look at movement.”
Spanish senior Andrew Levie, a second-semester student of Aerial Silks Practice I, believes the two instructors complement each other well.
“They both have different backgrounds, so they both give you specific, unique advice,” Levie said. “Together it just makes them amazing. They’re the best. I couldn’t love them any more.”
Levie said that the class itself provides an experience that is unique to each student.
“The moves are given to you, but your expression through those moves is up to you,” Levie said.
Levie said the class is split into groups based on their number of semesters in the class, and each group learns different moves based on their experience level. Erickson said the class is structured this way so that more experienced students not only learn new moves, but also how to teach and assist the newer students.
“I think ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been bending the rules,” Erickson said. “I’m not an academic. I’m all about creating skill. It’s ultimately, for me, to be a mode of expression that is transformative. If it doesn’t do that, I’m not interested.”
Aerial silks courses currently comprise 74 students, with some students having taken over four semesters of aerial silks. Erickson encourages students interested in aerial silks to join the Physical Theatre Club, where they can learn and practice aerial silks during open practice hours. Students may also enroll in Aerial Silks Practice I after passing a preliminary audition.