Senior expands her passion for aerial dancing through teaching


Stretching for her toes, senior Emma Ross aerial dances each week.

Tilly Friedlander

When she was 12, senior Emma Ross wasn’t like the other girls at her horseback riding camp. It was not the horses that she was drawn to—instead, she had her eyes on an activity more daring, a sport that no one that she knew had done before, a passion that she would later pursue throughout her high school career. That week at horseback riding camp, Ross gracefully wrapped silks around her body as she pulled herself off the ground, beginning to teach herself aerial dance.

“There’s nothing that can prepare you for what you do in aerial. It’s kind of like ballet. You don’t start doing all these cool turns or having a perfect turnout. It’s something you really have to work up to slowly,” Ross said.

According to Ross, she is the only Redwood student who aerial dances and is the only person her age at Aerial Dance Marin in San Rafael.

Ross’ schedule can be overwhelming at times, as she balances aerial dance two to three days a week, advanced drama performances and her own job at an athletic store.

“Balancing aerial with drama class has been a lot. Last year I had Micetro rehearsals and aerial and [modern] dance all at once. And then second semester I got a job,” Ross said.

Aerial Dance Marin, owned by Sheila Bannon, opened in 2015 and Ross was the first student to take a class. The new studio has been much more convenient for her schedule than the San Francisco studio she used to take classes at.

“I remember when I met her it was so funny because she came to a class where she was the only one there, but she didn’t mind. She just dove right in and has been coming ever since,” Bannon said.

Since then, Ross has been co-teaching beginner classes to other students ranging from six to forty years old.

“Sheila really wanted to start a trend of aerial dance [in Marin]. As [Aerial Dance Marin] grew, I was one of the more advanced people who went there. Sheila was the only teacher and asked me to start helping her co-teach for one of the beginning classes and bring new material for the more intermediate students to learn,” Ross said.

Ross has been an exceptional co-teacher for the beginner dancers, according to Bannon.

“She’s so good at explaining things. She plans what she is going to do ahead of time and she works well with kids,” Bannon said. “She’s motivating and she’s good at keeping kids on track and focused.”

According to Kelsey Ruggard, a beginning adult dancer at Aerial Dance Marin, Ross has been a very helpful coach for students in her class.

“She definitely pushes you and she wants everyone to do the absolute best that they can,” said Ruggard. “She always has a bunch of different moves that we’ve never seen before that she brings from other places or invents herself.”

Ross appreciates that aerial incorporates all her passions and physical strengths into one activity.

“I love aerial because it combines my interest in athletics and performing arts. It’s the ultimatum between those. It is kind of cathartic when you achieve something that you’ve been working on for a really long time,” Ross said.

Ross prefers aerial dance to a modern dance class that she takes at Roco Dance Studio in Mill Valley, because aerial exercises a wider range of muscles.

“[Aerial] uses such unique muscles. You’re holding yourself in the air. It’s a lot of grip strength, back strength and core strength that you really can’t gain from other activities,” Ross said.

Ross’ first show with Aerial Dance Marin was a benefit performance to raise money for the Valley fire in Lake County, in which she performed her first duo act in front of her peers.

“We choreographed it together and that was my first time choreographing my own piece and then performing it. My friends were there and it was really cool because it was the first time they’d ever seen me do this live,” Ross said.

Since then, Ross has performed three times at farmers markets around the county with Aerial Dance Marin.

“The San Rafael farmers’ market sometimes allows us to come in and set up with the crash pads and the masks. It was a less formal show where you just kind of pop up there and free-style improv it,” Ross said.

Although she has already proven her talent at the studio, Ross is hoping to continue to improve her aerial skills in the future.

“Now that I’ve been doing aerial for nearly four years, I like to say that I’ve got a lot of conditioning under my belt, but I still have a long ways to go,” Ross said.

Ross plans to practice aerial no matter what, but her dream is to have aerial dance as part of her career.

“My future is uncertain at this point. I’m applying to traditional colleges but aerial silk is my passion. It would be an ultimate dream for me to pursue that professionally,” Ross said. “No matter what happens career-wise in my future, aerial will be something I’m doing for a long time.”