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Campers learn to 'fly' at theater camp

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BRADENTON 

“Don’t kill me!” Amanda Lade squealed as she was hoisted into the air in a somersault harness.

“You got this,” said her friend Miranda Wolf, 14. “Just flip.”

Zoe Zimmermann, 14, is lifted up into the air while attached to an aerial harness during summer camp with On the Fly Productions Wednesday, July 30 at Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton. On the Fly Productions is choreographing the aerial components to Tarzan: The Musical.    (Staff photo by  Rachel S. O'Hara)

Zoe Zimmermann, 14, is lifted up into the air while attached to an aerial harness during summer camp with On the Fly Productions Wednesday, July 30 at Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton. On the Fly Productions is choreographing the aerial components to Tarzan: The Musical. (Staff photo by Rachel S. O'Hara)

“Arch, arch, arch your back!” called instructor Jason Whicker.

This time, Lade, 13, managed to flip through the wires of her harness without getting stuck.

“Good!” he said. “Now do it 15 more times.”

Upstage, a boy in a harness crashed into a ladder. Two girls practiced spinning in bungee cords while another worked on unfolding from a flying backbend. Instructors corrected postures while kids donned gloves to work the ropes for their friends.

Everyone worked together at On the Fly Productions’ weeklong summer flying camp at the Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton. Company director Jennifer Kelly and aerial choreographer Jason Whicker led the camp of about 20 kids ages 7 and up with lessons in aerial choreography, dance and flight.

CLICK HERE to see more photos from the camp

Jennifer Kelly gives Morgan Campbell, 12, some tips on staying balanced in the air during summer camp with On the Fly Productions Wednesday, July 30 at Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton. On the Fly Productions is choreographing the aerial components to "Tarzan: The Musical. "   (Staff photo by  Rachel S. O'Hara)

Jennifer Kelly gives Morgan Campbell, 12, some tips on staying balanced in the air during summer camp with On the Fly Productions Wednesday, July 30 at Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton. On the Fly Productions is choreographing the aerial components to "Tarzan: The Musical. " (Staff photo by Rachel S. O'Hara)

“They learn what I call the basics of flying,” said Whicker, who recently appeared on “America’s Got Talent” as an aerialist. “Front flip, back flip, how to control the direction they’re facing. There’s also the bungee, the up and down movement, how to lift their bodies up and maneuver in the silks.”

Whicker said that the best thing about rotating the lessons is that each one tires out a different part of the body. Aerial focuses on arm muscles, flying takes lots of core work and dancing wears out the legs.

“They’re beasts by the end of it,” Kelly said. “The kids that trained with us last year – maybe they lose their strength, but because of their experience, it comes back to them. The muscle memory and the coordination. Even after just a week.”

Some of the kids in flying camp have never done anything like it before. Others are gymnasts or dancers, more accustomed to the complicated motions involved. A few are involved in the upcoming Manatee Players production of “Tarzan” that On The Fly Productions is doing aerial choreography for.

Whicker said it’s been challenging to split the kids into age and skill groups to keep them all sufficiently engaged. He and Kelly allow them to play and explore within certain parameters. One of the biggest lessons they learn throughout camp is safety.

Like only climbing a silk as high as you can get yourself down.

The campers work together on that too, trading places in harnesses and pulling the ropes for their friends. There’s an enormous amount of trust involved when you’re suspended 20 feet off the ground.

Lade, a second-year camper who is also playing a butterfly in “Tarzan,” likes working on the silks best because she can alternate between arm and leg strength and work on both at once. This year, she’s also training on the travel track, a moving somersault harness.

“It feels ... a bit of fright, because you never know what could happen,” she said. “But I know I feel safe because of the harness, and I know I won’t fall. And I also feel exhilarated, because I’m here. And I can fly. It’s really fun.”

At the end of the camp, all the students will show off their best skill for their families. Lade will be harnessed in the air. Other kids will be performing on a lyra (a hung steel hula hoop) trapeze, hammock silks, normal silks, bungees and ropes.

“It’s been so amazing,” said Abigail Zion, 14. “These are people who have been doing it for many years. You can trust them as well, because they can do it too – at one point, they were where you were. And they can help you.”

Whicker and Kelly got involved in theater young. Once you add the flying component, they said, everything else seems flat. Incorporating aerial dance into shows just takes it to another level.

There is, however, a catch when it comes to learning to fly.

“You have to kill the magic to create the magic,” Whicker said. “That’s what I tell people. Now we’re going to teach you, it’s no longer going to be magical. Learning it is like leaving Eden.”

Kelly said that despite that, her favorite part is seeing people overcome their fears and limitations.

“More than anything, I think it instantly makes everybody feel like a six-year-old,” she said. “You’re just squealing with glee. I don’t care how old you are or how professional you are, in that moment, you’re just ‘Oh my God! I’m off the ground!’ and that’s really fun.”

INTERESTED?

“Tarzan” opens Thursday at the Manatee Players, 502 3rd Ave. W., Bradenton. For more information: 748-5875; manateeplayers.com.

Last modified: July 31, 2014
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