Lauryn Higgins is a native of the Tarheel State and currently a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is studying...
Asheville is home to countless dedicated artists, and Christine Aiken is no exception. When she saw a void in the market for aerial arts, she jumped at the opportunity. A single mother, a mortgage professional and now owner of Asheville Aerial Arts, she is literally and figuratively superwoman, and she makes it look oh, so easy.
Lauryn Higgins: You’re the artistic director and founder of Asheville Aerial Arts. Can you give our readers a background on how you got into aerial arts, and what led you to open your own performance company?
Christine Aiken: I was a professional entertainer for many years, but when I blew out my knee, it ended my career. I was on vacation and was introduced to a flying trapeze, and from that, became hooked. I realized that while I could no longer perform my skills on the ground, I could certainly use them in the air. In 2007, I retired from performing to start a family. When approached about flying for the Asheville Area Arts Council's White Ball, I realized I could recruit and train some individuals to perform for the event. I did and the response was very positive. Next thing I know, I was being contacted about my performers for other events. That was the start of Asheville Aerial Arts 8 years ago and it just keeps getting better.
Lauryn: For someone completely new to aerial arts, can you describe what exactly it is?
Christine: Aerial arts is any type of suspended apparatus worked on by a performer, where, in effect, they dance in the air. Aerial artists are performance artists that engage in a variety of entertainment arts, many of which are seen in circuses around the world. Silks are the long fabrics that have surged in popularity over the last 20 years, but have been an aerial art form for hundreds of years. Lyra is a round hoop that spins in the air. There is dance trapeze, static trapeze, doubles trapeze, swing trapeze and flying trapeze. Spanish Web and Corde Lisse are long ropes aerialists also perform on. There are so many, it would be difficult to name them all.
Lauryn: What is a typical day for you?
Christine: To say the least, my days are hectic. I am a 19 year mortgage professional, so I spend time assisting my clients, builders and realtors. I am also a single mom, so my son is my priority and I spend as much time with him as I can. My aerial work life consists of rigging, sewing, choreographing, spotting and the training of my aerialists. The administrative side is coordinating 25 artists, as well as guest artists and entertainers we contract out to. Ordering equipment and supplies takes a great deal of time, as we have to research suppliers and be sure we are getting exactly what we need. Load bearing equipment is not eligible for return, so I triple check all orders. I spend a quite a bit of my day working on quotes for clients to hire us and budgeting for those events. For shows, I have to coordinate insurance, venues, lighting, sound, tickets, marketing, public relations, rehearsals and concepts. It is a lot, but I love my life and couldn't find the energy to pull it all off were I not to feel so inspired by what we bring to our community.
Lauryn: Asheville is a city of so many artists and performers. What led you here?
Christine: I was born in Asheville and returned here years ago to spend the last years of my father's life with him in the mountains. I miss the beach and all of the traveling, but I have brought much of my travels home with me in my heart. Asheville is home to some very talented folks and we are blessed to live in such a diverse community. I laugh when people tell me I can't do something I have set out to do and I push ahead. I followed my heart in opening the company and continued to put my heart and soul into Asheville Aerial Arts, despite the economic crisis that plagued our nation just one year after our inception. I figured nothing creative ever came to be without someone pioneering it and I might as well be the person to bring professional aerial entertainment to Asheville. What was the worst that could happen? I could fail, and I wouldn't be the first person that has happened to. Instead, the company has continued to thrive and grow in popularity. Ashevillians can be proud of their small city having such a unique entertainment organization in their backyard. We're sure grateful for the support and hope folks continue to be introduced to this inspiring art form.
Lauryn: When putting on an aerial arts show, what is your primary goal and what are you hoping the audience is seeing?
Christine: My goal is to create a show that is inspiring with these strong and graceful athletes and artists. We are always changing things up, so even those folks that return get to see something they haven't before. It may seem easy, but that is the goal of a professional, right? Make the next to impossible look graceful and smooth. Aerial arts goes beyond what beauty can be captured on the ground, by extending the possibilities, vertically. I want people to look up and around and realize they can move in whatever direction they choose in life. I hope the audience walks away thinking, "Wow, if they can do that, then I can do too.”
Lauryn : You have an upcoming show this month, can you tell our readers what they can expect?
Christine: Learning to Fly, April 26th at the Asheville Jewish Community Center, is a show inspired by two little girls who attended our show, Soaring, at the Asheville Community Center in January. These two girls wanted to come on stage and try what we do. To have to deny them the opportunity broke my heart, but it also inspired me. I thought it would be so rewarding to our audience to give them a show and then let them take a turn. The acts for this show are visually stunning in their concept and sheer numbers (the silks finale sports 6 aerialists up in the air swinging, rocking, swaying and spinning). I figured what better excuse to use some of the great songs about flying, too. It has come together to make this another adventure in the air that will delight audience members of all ages. We are also introducing some acts that are artists truly just learning to fly, such three young students from . This show features four male aerialists, more than we have put in one show at a time. I like to open new doors and create something the audience can relate to whether they dream of flying themselves, or just like to watch others.