BY TARA McCARTHY

Many unsuspecting pedestrians stopped to look up at the Vancouver Public Library last month. An energetic jazz tune echoed into the afternoon air, while a group of dancers delicately swung from the building on ropes in an extreme demonstration of physical artistry.

The art form has been dubbed aerial dance and, for two Yukoners, it was an opportunity to introduce themselves to a new way of moving and thinking.

Jude Wong and Charlie Wilson joined on with Aeriosa Dance Society in March for the high-flying Cultural Olympiad performance, which pushed them to new levels.

“You pretty much have to re-wire your body’s natural reaction to height. For me, that took me a long time,” Wong says. “It took me pretty much a week and a half out of the two weeks to get that re-wiring so that I wasn’t terrified.”

For Wilson, it was an entirely different test.

“I have physical skills, but it takes me a long time to learn choreography, so all along that was my fear,” she says with a laugh. “It wasn’t being 80 feet above the ground, suspended by a rope or anything like that.”

Toward the end of last year, Wilson and Wong participated in a three-week aerial dance workshop run by Aeriosa at the Yukon Arts Centre. Both got a taste of the style, working on an indoor wall and getting a feel for the equipment.

That introduction led them to sign on for a two-week apprenticeship in Vancouver – but this time they were repelling off the majestic downtown library on Day 1.

Videos and photo slide shows on YouTube document the performance. Dressed in simple costumes, the dancers appear to move in slow motion, defying gravity with each graceful step and leap from ledge to ledge.

“The realization that helped me the most was to relax my weight into the harness and until I was able to do that, every time I would leave the wall I would be completely out of control,” Wong says.

“You can’t fight against it, once you start toppling to one side or another, or if you’ve jumped even with slight unevenness, you just have to relax right into it,” Wilson adds.

Wilson has a background in climbing and gymnastics and says the experience felt natural. Wong is extensively trained in dance, but says it was a welcomed variation.

“It gives you a range of movement that you can’t attain just as a dancer. It’s just a whole other world.”

Beyond that, Wong says it was more like a spectacle, with the audience cheering as the dancers leapt from the building and touched back down.

Wilson says it’s an accessible art form.

“We weren’t in a theatre, in a place where people have to go and buy tickets. It was people on their way to work, people on their lunch break, people going to the library to study, homeless people hanging out in that space – everyone could see us.”

Both have been invited to perform with Aeriosa again. And while those details are in the works, the two agree it was life-altering.

“I never imagined that my love of movement would take me on to the side of a building,” Wong says, beaming from ear to ear. “But it did, it totally did. It was pure bliss out there and I would do it again in a second.”

PHOTO: JULIA TAFFE