To soar above the rest

Historic preservation graduate now directs an Athens trapeze studio

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To soar above the rest

Melissa Roberts

Melissa Roberts (MHP ’01) knew the earth couldn’t ground her.

Despite her degree and position as an adjunct professor at the UGA College of Environment and Design, she took to the sky in 2002 after attending an aerial dance performance at Canopy Studio, a trapeze center in Athens that celebrated its 10th anniversary in April.

“I’ve been a gymnast my whole life, but gave it up when I went to college. I always felt like there was something that was missing,” Roberts says.

Once she saw her first aerial performance, she knew she had found what she was missing.

“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen anyone do with their body. I wanted to do it, and I wanted to be good at it,” she says.

Roberts began attending classes and trained with various circus outfitters around the country when she traveled. All of the work paid off when she took over as director of Canopy Studio three years ago. Since then, Roberts has moved the focus of the nonprofit to community outreach, putting aside the impression that trapeze is just a circus act.

“Our focus on outreach has been the biggest change in the 10 years since Canopy’s founding. In the last four or five years we have had such a solid sense of structure that we can now make a difference in the community,” she says.

The Canopy Studio Repertory Company puts on two shows a year, but its impact is in its community involvement, Roberts says.

Classes are offered to all ages and skill levels, using trapeze as an alternative form of fitness rather than a high-flying stunt.

“There aren’t many aerial dance community centers in the country. Most are circus schools,” she says. “My goal as director is to create more and more opportunities to get people into the studio, to experience the power of dance and the power of movement.”

And while trapeze may be planted in the circus-crazed minds of kids, adults enjoy the fun too. Roberts says most of her students are older than 30, and some are even in their 50s. Most adults find that trapeze provides unique strength training that challenges them to move their bodies in previously unimaginable ways.

While committed to making aerial dance accessible to the Athens community, Roberts hasn’t completely forgotten her interest in environmental design and historic preservation. She frequently visits historic sites, her favorite being cemeteries, to garner inspiration for future aerial acts and studio ideas.

Roberts has become interested in site-specific choreography, which takes aerial dance out of the studio and places it onsite, be it downtown or under a bridge. This gives the public a chance to experience both the beauty and usefulness of trapeze while exhibiting the studio to the community it serves.

A very diverse community, at that.

“You never know who you’ll see flying through the studio,” Roberts says. “It could be your dentist or your psychology professor.”