Where is Athens?
(Editor’s Note: Contributing writer Meg Taylor and photographer Mercedes Bleth collaborated on this piece a short bit back. With the upcoming spring show “With Flying Colors”, running April 22 – 24, we’re dusting this off to spotlight an extremely talented group of people. Tickets can be purchased in advance here.)
Located in Terry street warehouses, is an acrobatic playground where kids and adults alike learn and practice the art of aerial dance.
Canopy Studio, this acrobatic playground, was started 13 years ago by former modern dancer, Suzan Murphy. Having roots in Georgia, Murphy started Canopy in Athens, because she knew it would be receptive to a creative idea like a trapeze studio. Within a few years of opening, Canopy had a full company and was putting on productions twice a year. Murphy retired in 2009 and passed along the professional company to Melissa Roberts, who is now the director of the studio.
“Not only did Murphy pass along the professional company, she also passed along the idea of aerial dance not just as doing tricks, but as going on a journey of modern dance, ” Roberts said in reference to Murphy’s vision.
After Roberts took charge of Canopy, she immediately began brainstorming ways to expand and grow the organization. She added more energy to the studio and expanded farther into the community, allowing her to partner with more organizations.
“Aerial dance is one of the hardest most physically amazing things I have ever done and in the midst of it being so physically demanding it is also technical, fluid, and beautiful, ” said Roberts regarding her love of aerial dance.
Canopy Studio hopes to build more of a community through its nontraditional way of moving. Roberts explained this nontraditional way of moving is a vital aspect of a happy, creative life because, “The more you move, the better your brain works. You are able to problem solve in different ways and create a sense of body confidence.”
The studio that began with primarily adult classes now has more than 40 classes a week and caters to all different parts of the community. Roberts has created an outreach position that developed a teens program, as well as an after-school program that includes special needs children. Roberts has fostered working relationships with the neighborhood schools in order create this after-school program and give children the opportunity to experience aerial dance.
“We give these kids a chance to do something they never would have been able to do. It is a very sobering feeling to leave the studio and drive down the street to see the kids that come to our ASP classes at the bus stop with their parents, waiting to go to the shelter.”
This incredible opportunity for these kids gives them a sense of body ownership and self-esteem, which translates into their every day lives. The studio is a safe space for these kids to fully engage in what they are doing and express themselves through physical movement.
“This type of physical movement where the kids learn to pull themselves up onto the bar really allows them to pull themselves up in other areas of their life while instilling confidence and independence, ” Roberts said.
Many of the attendees refer to Canopy as their “safe space” and say that it allows a sense of healing and growth. Roberts agrees and says, “As long as this safe space is still present and that energy continues to move forward, we are meeting our mission. Now we just need to grow our space.”
They have the ultimate location: close to downtown, walkable to some of their community partners, and just far enough to feel like a get away from town. The studio itself is a space that inspires creativity and reflects the dancer’s passion. Many of the aerialists themselves have gone through profession training programs and some participate in ongoing residential training programs. The talent in the group is outstanding and the mix of all the different backgrounds that bring these people together creates an energy and passion unlike any other.
Canopy prides itself on welcoming people of any background, age or physical ability. Performances are held throughout the year from the different levels of dancers and this gives the Athens community a chance to experience and see how much work and focus it takes to be able to do this type of dance.
Roberts explained her love of the performances the amount of work that goes into make each one new and exciting. “The performances are especially fun because we love to unveil a story behind the performance. Every aerialist has a specific character and it makes it really fascinating to see how the art of body movement and acting comes together, ” Roberts said.
The studio is constantly growing and there is no better place than Athens for this to happen. The level of quality and creativity that Canopy brings to Athens makes it yet another example of why Athens is so unique.
“We want to reach out to everyone in the community. I know we are making a difference in people’s lives, and and if it weren’t for Athen’s supportive community we are so grateful for, the studio would not be able to do what it does.”