Skip to main content
Skip to main menu Skip to spotlight region Skip to secondary region Skip to UGA region Skip to Tertiary region Skip to Quaternary region Skip to unit footer


Aerial dance program taking flight at UGA 

Katie Cowart

Aerial dance, a mesmerizing fusion of dance and acrobatics, has found its place at the University of Georgia (UGA) with the development of an aerial dance program. Elizabeth Stich, a performer and instructor, joined the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences as an assistant professor of dance in 2022 to spearhead this new initiative. 

"We are fortunate to have Elizabeth Stich's expertise on our faculty," said Jean Martin-Williams, associate dean of Franklin College. "She not only expands our aerial dance offerings, but also brings a fresh perspective to dance composition from non-western European angles, which she plans to incorporate into her teaching. We eagerly anticipate her further contributions at UGA." 

Aerial dance showcases performers gracefully defying gravity while suspended from the ceiling by silks, hoops, or a trapeze. It offers an enchanting visual spectacle that combines acrobatic maneuvers, graceful movements, and the use of aerial apparatuses.  

“Aerial work is particularly fascinating because most dance students have no prior exposure to it. It serves as a unique laboratory for me as a teacher and choreographer as I explore various approaches in performance training and creative practice,” said Stich. “Aerial work puts everyone on equal footing and encourages experimentation. Despite teaching aerial for a long time, I find it continuously engaging in both my personal practice and my work with students.” 

Aerial dance incorporates dance techniques, acrobatics, and circus skills, resulting in visually captivating performances. Performers choreograph dances that feature powerful movements, poses, spins, drops, and expressive sequences. Many dancers are drawn to aerial work for the diverse performance prospects—from theme parks to Broadway to concerts. 

“One of the things I appreciate about teaching aerial at UGA dance is the students' curiosity and dedication. They constantly inspire me with their requests for new skills and keep the learning process fresh for all of us,” said Stich. “I have been fortunate to receive support from Dr. Martin-Williams and the dean for expanding the aerial program to support these students. Their enthusiasm motivates me to keep growing as a mentor and instructor.” 

Stich leverages her prior research on best practices for aerial partner work as she coaches students who are new to the world of aerial dance. Her extensive knowledge in this area allows her to capitalize on students' past experiences in ground-based dance styles and apply that knowledge to a novel context in the air. By sharing her expertise, Stich equips students with the knowledge and agency necessary to navigate the intricacies of aerial dance duets with confidence and precision. 

“Aerial performance requires students to address unexpected situations that may arise in the moment. There is an element of improvisation inherent in aerial work,” Stich said. “To cultivate this mindset in students, I incorporate ground-based dance exercises and improvisation activities throughout the rehearsal process that enhance the students' communication skills, creative problem-solving skills. My goal is to foster a different mindset for approaching aerial work.” 

Safety is of utmost importance in aerial dance. Performers use specialized rigging systems, such as aerial rigging points, carabiners, and safety lines, to secure themselves and ensure stability while executing aerial maneuvers and appropriate safety mats to mitigate the inherent risk in aerial dance and promote a safe and supportive learning environment. Proper training and knowledge of risk management practices are crucial to prevent accidents and ensure the well-being of performers. 

“In building the aerial program at UGA, we have been working on various aspects behind the scenes,” said Stich, whose scholarship includes a study on aerial training. “This includes conducting inspections with a certified aerial rigger and structural engineer to ensure that our theater and equipment are suitable to handle the force generated during aerial work. We have also invested in crash mats and panel mats for use during class, rehearsal, and performances, and class sizes are limited to 12 students to allow for spotting and individual feedback.” 

Aerial dance has gained exposure through various mediums, including television shows, films, and social media platforms. Popular talent shows have featured aerial dancers, highlighting their skills to a wide audience. Additionally, social media platforms have allowed aerial dancers to share their performances, tutorials, and behind-the-scenes content, reaching a broader audience and generating interest in the art form. 

As part of the broader circus arts movement, aerial dance has experienced increased popularity. Contemporary circus shows like Cirque Du Soleil, circus schools, and circus-themed events feature aerial arts as a central component of their programming, introducing a wider audience to the captivating art form. 

The dance department will begin by offering two levels of aerial dance technique courses on two levels with opportunities to perform in faculty choreography, with the goal of eventually expanding into composition and allowing students to create their own dances in the air.  

Aerial dance is not a standardized or widely offered program in most traditional colleges and universities, but the UGA dance department is set to soar to new heights, thanks to the dedication and expertise of faculty and staff like Elizabeth Stich. As students take flight in this exhilarating art form, the University of Georgia is poised to become a hub of creativity and research in the world of aerial dance. 

Image: UGA students Hadiya Williams and Haleigh Green performing at the 2023 UGA Spring Dance Concert. Photo by Jason Thrasher.


This is a unique opportunity for visionary donors to shape the future of the arts. To learn more about supporting an extraordinary aerial dance program to make a transformative impact for current and future students, contact Melissa Roberts at or find more information here.


Support Franklin College

We appreciate your financial support. Your gift is important to us and helps support critical opportunities for students and faculty alike, including lectures, travel support, and any number of educational events that augment the classroom experience. Click here to learn more about giving.