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    A performance that will make Columbus cultural history. Inside aerial arts show at Springer

    By Mark Rice,

    22 days ago

    Four years ago, when Carrie Paris moved her Performance Dance Centre to a larger space in Columbus, little did she know the big opportunity it would create to add a new program — and now a chance for folks to see the results in a huge way.

    One of her students back then, Sarah Morgan, mentioned that the high ceilings (18 feet) in the new space are ideal for aerial arts , the genre of dance and acrobatics performed in the air while hanging from straps of fabric called silks.

    Paris, a dance studio owner for around 20 years, didn’t know much about aerial arts, but she was intrigued by the professional performance she had seen at Cirque du Soleil show. So she asked Morgan to connect her with local aerial arts instructor Courtney McCutcheon to create such a program at her center.

    McCutcheon just so happened to be looking for another place to teach because the studio where she had worked closed during the COVID pandemic.

    “We reached out to Courtney,” Paris told the Ledger-Enquirer, “and it was like all the stars aligned.”

    Fast forward to this week, when McCutcheon, Morgan and Makynleigh Roberson are preparing their students at Performance Dance Centre to make Columbus cultural history. For the first time in the city, folks will be able to attend an aerial arts show produced and performed by local residents: 3 p.m. May 25 in the Dorothy McClure Theatre at the Springer Opera House .
    Students at Performance Dance Center in Columbus rehearse for an upcoming performance at the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia. 05/22/2024 Mike Haskey/

    The 75-minute show comprises 18 segments and features more than 70 performers, ranging in age from 6 to 40-something. The $15 tickets are available at the door and on the Performance Dance Centre’s website .

    McCutcheon called it an honor to reach this moment.

    “When you’re training in an art like this, it’s so important to be able to have a place to perform and have people respect what you’re doing,” she told the L-E. “It’s wonderful to come into the studio to practice and learn, but, for so many of us, when the real love comes in is when we’re on stage, performing in front of an audience and getting to show off our craft. It just makes me happy that we’re able to provide that for so many people.”

    Paris added, “It’s really cool to offer something that is new to Columbus. … It’s been neat to see the closeness of the community that Courtney is building.”

    How she became an aerial arts instructor

    McCutcheon has been performing aerial arts for 16 years and teaching it for 13. She was a gymnast during her childhood. As a teenager, she attended a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas. Her reaction: “I just felt this joy, like, ‘Oh, this is what I want to do in life.’”

    When she returned home, McCutcheon couldn’t find a place in Columbus to learn aerial arts. So she convinced her parents to buy her an aerial arts kit to hang the silks from her bedroom ceiling and teach herself. She did aerial arts as her senior project at Columbus High School, where she graduated in 2009.
    Aerial arts instructor Courtney McCutcheon works with a student Wednesday afternoon at Performance Dance Centre in Columbus, Georgia. 05/22/2024 Mike Haskey/

    Paris appreciates McCutcheon’s patient approach to her students.

    “She teaches confidence,” Paris said. “She has these girls who come in nervous and come out brave. . . . We have some who start out real scared to do the drops and the rolls. My daughter was one of them. It took Courtney’s encouragement and showing her to break through that barrier.”

    Beginners don’t need natural strength or flexibility to do aerial arts, McCutcheon said.

    “There’s something in aerial for everyone,” she said.

    Such as two of her students, 9-year-old Ivey Johnson, a rising fourth-grader at North Columbus Elementary School, and 10-year-old Asher Melton, a rising fifth-grader at Brookstone School.

    “I feel like I’m flying and free”

    This is Ivey’s second year taking aerial arts lessons, inspired by the Cirque du Soleil show she saw at Disney World.

    “I liked the costumes and how they acted in it,” she told the L-E. “It was just very cool to see. … I want to be in Cirque du Soleil. I wanted to start somewhere, so I started here.”

    Asher has been doing aerial arts for 1½ years, compelled to try after watching videos on YouTube.

    “I’m bendy,” she told the L-E, “and I love contortion things.”
    Asher Melton, 10, a student at Performance Dance Center in Columbus rehearse for an upcoming performance at the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia. 05/22/2024 Mike Haskey/

    Asher enjoys the aerial arts “environment and how it feels to be in the silks. I feel like I’m flying and free, like I’m suspended in the air.”

    When she practices and performs aerial arts, Ivey said, “I feel joy. … You get to express your feelings. … It makes me feel one day I might be able to do this on a big stage in Vegas.”
    Asher Melton, 10, a student at Performance Dance Center in Columbus rehearse for an upcoming performance at the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia. 05/22/2024 Mike Haskey/

    For now, you can see Ivey, Ashey and their fellow students at the Springer in Columbus.

    “I’m just super-excited to take this step and continue the growth of this program,” McCutcheon said. “I mean, I owe all this success of this to Carrie and her willingness to bring me in and see if this would work together — and it has worked wonderfully.”

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