Ballerina Uses Ballet Training in Aerial Dance

Meet Elizabeth Fraley! She trained as a ballerina growing up, and now she uses her ballet background in the world of aerial dance. From Fairfax Station, Virginia, Elizabeth followed her dream to Los Angeles, California where she continues to train in dance, body conditioning and yoga while pursuing her PhD (in cell and molecular biology)! Read more about this dancer!

Photo by: Dan Krauss

Tell us a little About Yourself. Growing up, would you have called yourself a dreamer?

I was and still am a dreamer.

What is your job title?

Professional Aerialist, Dancer, Choreographer as well as being a PhD candidate at UCLA.

What does a day in your life look like?

I train my aerial arts in the morning from 8-11AM including body conditioning and multi-apparatus practice. After that I work in my lab  from 11:30AM-8PM. This includes working on my thesis project, running scientific experiments, as well as teaching undergraduate students. After school I either take yoga to unwind or rehearse from 8-10 PM. Weekends I usually perform Friday and Saturday nights. As a freelance artist this means that shows could be almost anywhere.

Dancing & You

Photo by: Ruthie Carl Taylor

How did you get involved with dancing?

I started dancing when I was a little girl. My mother took classes at the Virginia School of Ballet, and I would stand outside the door imitating until I was allowed to take my own class.

What was your training?

I was mainly focused on ballet and modern. I trained at the Virginia School of Ballet, Washington Ballet, Maryland Youth Ballet, Kirov School of Ballet and the Richmond Ballet. I was lucky enough to attend summer dance programs with American Ballet Theatre, The Joffrey Ballet and The Pennsylvania Ballet (Rock School).

What is your favorite style of dance?

I love hybrids of dance, things that push the limits of preconceived notions of what "dance" is.

How did you hear about and get involved with aerial dance?

I had some friends who had an aerial rig in their back yard. I watched them practice aerial silks and I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I was hooked. I started training at a circus arts school in Los Angeles, Hollywood Aerial Arts.

What is aerial dance?

Aerial dance is the use of apparatuses (silks, hoop, hammock, rope, trapeze, etc) in order to travel and maintain height while dancing.

Photo by: Dan Krauss

What do you need in order to be successful with aerial dance?

Strength is essential. Flexibility makes aerial dance look elegant. Grace stitches everything together. This of course demands tons of practice.

The first time you were in the air, were you scared?

When you train aerial you start low, and work up to being higher and higher. When I started I was barely off the ground. Once you are familiar with the movements and how your body feels, then you work higher and higher. I started out doing shows with 17-20 ft, and now I perform up to 30ft high.

The first time I used a motor, which is something that pulls you up in the air. I was terrified. I was doing a double hoop act and we just kept going higher and higher. With a hoop the inertia picks up and spins faster as you get higher. It was a crazy feeling. We just looked at each other and focused on what we had rehearsed and the fear just melted away.


What is cool about aerial dance?

I like that it adds another dimension to traditional dance. I love creating works that are hybrids between the two. I like to think about how to interpret ground moves into aerial moves, or how to transition from ground to air seamlessly.

What do you wish people knew about aerial dance?

I love that most people know Cirque Du Soleil and this serves as an entry point to understanding what I do. However, circus arts have been around long before Cirque.

What is your favorite thing about what you do?

I love doing daring moves that are a little scary. It tests me, it shows me how brave I can be. Aerial dance has taught me to be bold, and not to hold back.

You & Following Your Dream

Photo by: Dan Krauss

When did you realize what your dream was?

I have always loved performing. I feel like it is something I was born to do. The medium has changed over the years, but the dream has always been the same. There's that connection when you perform to something bigger than yourself, it always inspires me to continue.

How did you go about making your dream happen?

Lots of hard work! Also believing in myself was key.

What was the best advice you got?

Follow your joy. It is the only thing that matters.

What advice do you have for others who may be interested in aerial dance?

Make sure you find a good teacher. Train every day. Watch videos online to get inspired. Develop your own artistic vision.

Do you have a life motto? If so, what is it?

Just keep swimming...

When you're having a bad day, what keeps you going?

Knowing tomorrow will be better. Everything changes so fast, what happens today is only temporary.

What or who inspires you?

Music. For me it all begins with the music. If a piece makes me feel something deep in my heart I just have to choreograph to it. If I can make the audience feel how I feel- then I've done my job.

Photo by: Dan Krauss


Connect with us

Design & Development by Shane Jeffers