Tag Archives: dancer

Cirque de Amateur

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The term “amateur” gets a bad rap. While suggesting a lack of skill, the word actually comes from the Latin “amator” or “lover.” An amateur is someone who does what they do for the love of it, and in Omaha, some love the circus arts. People are flocking to the traditions of the big top for myriad reasons: hobby, self-expression, exercise, paid performance, or social activity. 

Ciara Searight is a professionally certified aerial trainer who studied with Aircats at the Boulder Circus Center, Aloft Loft in Chicago, and Circus School of Arizona. Searight is an aerialist, acrobat, and dancer. Gracefully, she performs above the ground, defying fear with seeming effortlessness.

“I’m a certified teacher, but I’m an amateur performer,” says Searight, who started FreakWorks Entertainment in Omaha to teach and reach out to those with a similar love for the art of the aerial performance. The group meets frequently on Sundays in Elmwood Park, and she welcomes the public to join them. Parks have always allured young acrobats.

“I did gymnastics when I was younger, but I was inspired by playing around on tall swings, flipping around and hanging upside down. I thought, ‘there’s got to be something like this out there,’” says Searight of what led her to aerial arts such as silks, corde lisse, sling, lyra, trapeze, flying trapeze, straps, chains, pole, Spanish web, and more.

Anyone can do something in the circus arts, from the highest tightrope to yoyo tricks, unicycling, or sleight of hand—the possibilities are limitless. All it takes is one specific talent and to know approachable circus folks like her, according to Searight.

Circus-Arts2“Even pets can be taught tricks to perform. FreakWorks has had fire breathers, sword fighters, aerial silk performers, a lyrist, unicycle, whip, rola bola, breakdance, acrofusion, juggling, fire fingers, fire staff, poi, ballet, hoopers, flag, hand tut, pole. I wish we had BMX and skateboarders. Contortion and hand balancing would be great. Also teeter totter and trampoline artists would be amazing.”

The athleticism in aerials is obvious, but performing in most circus arts is a guaranteed workout.

“It’s great exercise. It works every part of your body,” Searight says, adding that core strength is what makes it look so easy. “I always enjoy watching people for the first time and how proud they are after doing their first real pose.”

Sara Gray describes herself as one of the obsessed ones. As Purple Pyro (her pseudonym), Gray is pushing her limits.

“I practice several movement arts: I breakdance with a local dance crew, Organix, I perform fire spinning and fire eating with Animatikz Entertainment, and aerial acrobatics with Flight Motion Studios.”

As a kid, Gray used to attempt handstands and splits with her friends with little success.

“I never got them. I decided that it would just never happen for me, and that’s what I told myself my entire life. Now I can hold a handstand with a fire staff on my neck and do the splits.”

Gray believes everyone should revisit the limits they have set for themselves as she did when she came across FreakWorks.

“I got into the circus arts last summer when my boyfriend and dance partner introduced me to a small circus group in Lincoln. After climbing into the aerial hoop for the first time, I was hooked,” says Gray. “I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life and I can never get enough. When you start off barely being able to get into the hoop, and then you work hard enough to build up the upper body strength that most people lack, there is a sense of empowerment that becomes addicting. It really helps you realize that you can break any limit that you may have set for yourself at an early age.”

Andrea Grove fits the enamored hobbyist profile. She discovered circus artistry through a roundabout route. While she had excelled at gymnastic floor exercises as a child, she eventually gave up the sport. She tried replacing gymnastics with cheerleading, but she hated it.

“Unfortunately, I felt too old to be a gymnast, and then I eventually got caught up in being a confused teenager,” says Grove. Around 20, she began attending music festivals, where circus performers flourish.

“I saw my first hula hoop dance at a festival in Minnesota and was blown away. It looked like magic. So I went home, bought a hoop from Target, and started teaching myself through YouTube tutorials.” 

Elmwood meet-ups with FreakWorks, as well as contortion training at Laurel Feller’s FlightMotion Studios, helped Grove branch out, adding to her list of skills and her family. Because circus people are tight like that.

“It captured my heart,” Grove says. “That magical feeling of seeing my first hoop dance hasn’t gone away; it’s only grown. That’s why I do it. It is an escape from the mundane, and I hope to someday spark that magic in someone else’s life. They can join my family.”

Visit facebook.com/Freakworks for more information. Omaha Magazine

Jill Anderson

July 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Triple-threat actress, singer, dancer Jill Anderson knows what it’s like to be the subject of adoring ovations, but now she’s sharing the spotlight with the most unwelcome of co-stars.

Anderson, one of the area’s most celebrated talents and one of the few local professionals with Actors’ Equity cred, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis earlier this year.

“I’m taking a philosophical approach to things so far,” says the woman who is also remembered for Beyond the Pale, her popular Irish folk band of decades past. “MS is a fairly serious diagnosis, but a lot of people live functional, productive lives with this disease. What I won’t let it do is to stop my creativity and my production of art, whether that be writing, concert work, or recording,” adds Anderson, who has released four volumes of Irish folk music through her Red Chair Records brand.

And acting? “I’m going to keep auditioning, but fatigue is a major symptom of MS for me right now, and we’ll see how that goes. Double vision is another symptom. Right now, for example, I see two of you,” she says of the interviewer sitting across the table in the garden of Caffeine Dreams coffee shop.

The artist may be seeing double, but she is working triple time in preparation for her fourth annual Joslyn Castle Literary Festival in September. Previous festivals have focused on such giants as the Bronte Sisters and Oscar Wilde. Last year’s effort was a flapper-fueled nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Each festival is a multifaceted exploration of a literary figure that has featured the likes of staged works, films, panel discussions—even a fashion show. This year’s festival delves into the undead world of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

It’s exactly the kind of initiative, says Anderson, that punctuates the idea that her “creativity bucket” can remain full regardless of where MS takes her. And if her diagnosis has anything at all resembling a silver lining, Anderson is now reconnecting with long dormant passions for poetry, the visual arts, and beyond.

“MS has given me a new set of circumstances,” she says, “but that’s really no different than any role or project I take on. In theatre, for example, my character also has a set of circumstances. There’s a script. There’s a setting. The character has a certain economic or social or whatever kind of background that guides who they are. Just like on stage, my life now has a new set of circumstances. It may be a matter of adding new avenues for creativity, but my art will continue.”

Follow the artist at redchairrecords.com and the festival at joslyncastle.com.

Her 13 Cents Worth

January 6, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Though inching 
perilously close
 to senior citizen status, Robin Welch still moves with the grace and agility of a young prima ballerina, which of course she once was.

Welch came to the Midlands in 1985 as principal dancer for Ballet Omaha, continuing an upward trajectory in ballet that can only be described as meteoric. Previously, she had won a full scholarship at age 15 to train with the Harkness Ballet in New York City, where she was born. Her talents won her a permanent spot with the company and at 17 she jetted off to Monaco.

“Our company was based in Monte Carlo,” she recounts. “Princess Grace would invite us to the castle. We’d swim in their pool.”

The company danced all across Europe, where Welch met or performed with the greatest ballet legends of the era, including Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Yes, everything was beautiful—until Rebekah Harkness decided to close the company she had founded. Welch returned stateside to join the Connecticut Ballet. It was in New Haven in 1978 that a photo of her was taken and used on a postage stamp—worth a princely 13 cents—as part of the Postal Service’s USA Dance series.

20131114_bs_2297

The call to Omaha actually came from her then-husband, artistic director Robert Vickrey, who brought his wife and their young daughter, Rachel, with him to develop Ballet Omaha. After Robert’s departure in the early ’90s (the couple had divorced by then), Ballet Omaha collapsed, and Welch retired as a dancer.

The curtain rose again in 1999 when The Rose Theater offered to house a new school and company, Omaha Ballet Theater, which Welch founded. After 11 years at the helm of Omaha’s only professional ballet company, she was stunned when The Rose decided to sever its ties.

“It was draining to see it disintegrate before my eyes,” says Welch of her ballet school.

But she was born to teach. Welch gathered her strength, her money, and her daughter—an accomplished ballet artist herself—and in 2010 opened Robin Welch Dance Arts, home of Heartland Youth Ballet. Welch’s gift of unfettered, joyous movement now shines in her 
young students.

“I have worked with children trained by Robin,” says Ernest Richardson, Resident Conductor of the Omaha Symphony. “They come consummately prepared. They’re disciplined, respectful, and they know how to work with the orchestra. She’s an 
amazing woman.”

Accolades from her peers sustained Welch after she thought her life’s work had ended. When the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards presented her with their Lifetime Achievement Award two years ago, she broke down in gratitude.

“I had felt isolated until that point,” she admits. “But [the award] made me feel like I was part of the community again. It came at a great time.”

With Heartland Youth Ballet now soaring, Welch’s story adds another en pointe chapter—this one with a happy ending.