Villella Laureates’ summer studies brought them mid-air

Miryam Moutillet

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The Edward Villella Fellowship is a scholarship given to promising dance students that allows for independent dance study over breaks. At the Lothridge Festival of Dance this past May, the scholarship was awarded to Danielle Pinney ’20 and Shannon West ’19.

This summer they took great advantage of their scholarships and reached great heights. The two dancers describe their experiences with passion.

Pinney, a double major in English and Spanish and minoring in Dance, describes, “I squat, perched with my feet at the base of the large metal hoop that I have developed an unequivocal prosperity for the past few months. Adjusting my grip, I hold firmly onto the sticky white tape that covers this instrument and soak in my surroundings, the fact that I’m performing—now, from the air.

The lyra is spinning but I remain still.

This is the golden age of opportunity for the arts, specifically at Union. This summer, with funding from the Villella Scholarship, I took aerial classes at The Circus Place in Hillsborough, N.J. I worked with several apparatuses but focused on aerial silks and lyra.

While I learned how to trust—myself and each aerial apparatus—to hang upside down from my wrists, ankles and knees, my experience this summer was more wholesome than these few tricks would have you imagine. I developed a passion for circus arts—one greater than I had anticipated— and for finding parallels between my contemporary dance background and newfound prowess in the air.

This experience has expanded my creative approach to dance and the arts, and I hope by bringing aerial lyra to Union, I will also broaden others’ awareness of and appreciation for circus arts on campus.”

West, a neuroscience major on the pre-med track and minoring in Dance, describes, “I did not realize how little upper-body strength I had until I tried to climb a silk and hold myself mid-air.

The first few weeks of aerial silks and lyra classes were exciting, but immensely difficult. All around me were students who could climb a silk while upside-down and fly onto a lyra like they had wings. Some days I felt clunky, some days I felt weak. But the best part of feeling like this was knowing there is so much room for improvement. I just had to work hard enough at it.

The dedication and the day-to-day progress made me stronger, showing me concrete results week after week. It ranged from sore muscles everywhere to longer periods of time that I could hang from the silks. This progress allowed me to create combinations to master new mounts and movements on the lyra. I can’t wait to push and improve skills now that I am back on campus. I am so looking forward to share my aerial dancing with our community through performances!

Note: Miryam Moutillet is the Director of the Dance Program at Union