Nancy Smith launched Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance in 1988, never knowing whether or not she’d one day be celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. But here and now in 2018, Smith’s bright idea has become a little empire that supports a thriving educational program, professional and student performance companies and an annual international dance festival. But the project still faces difficulties, says Smith, who in her wildest dreams sees room for continued growth.
“I feel like it’s always a moving target for any nonprofit — it’s always two steps forward and one step back,” Smith explains. “The funding landscape shifts, property taxes increase. In terms of programming, we’re super-solid. We’ve produced amazing programming over thirty years. All of that’s great, but trying to be a nonprofit organization in this day and age is challenging.” Fundraising and wooing patronage turns out to be a big part of Smith’s life as artistic director. “A girl can dream,” she notes on the occasion of another milestone in Frequent Flyers history.
“On the art we’re making and the educational piece, I’m good about all that,” adds Smith. “Three years ago, I opened a second studio, so I’m now renting two big studio spaces — at Boulder rental prices. The margins are thin on any nonprofit education program, but what we do requires lots of space. Before, we could only run one class at a time, so it made sense to expand in 2015. As we grow our programming, we’re working on finding ways to increase our infrastructure.”
Smith’s dream scenario? “Finding angel donors,” she admits. “In my dream, we’d have a dedicated building where we can do performances and house all of our educational programs.”
Frequent Flyers begins rolling out a series of thirtieth-anniversary performances and events this weekend with Flight Path, an evening that pulls five works from the company’s archive in the first half and finishes up with an all-new piece created in collaboration with the Colorado-based electric string quartet Spinphony. “We’re looking back, gathering community and also looking to the future,” Smith notes.
Two differently leveled student performances follow in May, and beginning at the end of July, the twentieth annual Aerial Dance Festival gets under way. In November, Frequent Flyers will join KGNU Independent Community Radio to top the season off with a Day of the Dead/Vampires Masquerade Ball that comes with “a costume contest, libations and dancing, plus excerpts from our most iconic work, Theatre of the Vampires.” As an aside, she adds, Boulder’s Crist Mortuary will sponsor the event.
When asked how she’s doing as she puts together the anniversary season, Smith jokes about how it might require “massive quantities of alcohol.” But in truth, she’s methodically covering all the angles. “This year’s theme is to gather together all the people important to us from over the last thirty years. We’ve created an alumni map online, and people once associated with Frequent Flyers can put a pin on it. And we’re creating a timeline, to show the trajectory of the company over thirty years.”
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The giving-back piece of the Frequent Flyers manifesto will reach its zenith at a culminating Aerial Dance Festival reception and a rare alumni performance on August 11. “We’ll be honoring our Frequent Flyers lineage, and also aerial dance’s lineage, with tributes to Bob Davidson, who worked in Denver at the [now-defunct] National Theatre Conservatory and passed away in 2016, and to Terry Sendgraff, who’s widely recognized as the ‘Mother of Aerial Dance,’” Smith says.
It’s all in the service of a local phenomenon with international cred that’s still growing, right alongside the general aerial-dance discipline. “Frequent Flyers is not a flash in the pan, definitely not after thirty years,” Smith continues. “We’ve had so many pinnacle experiences in the history of the company — like performing last year at the Kennedy Center to SRO crowds and having the only professional program tied to the University of Colorado Boulder. We were the first company in the world to host an aerial dance festival. We’re still looking forward, trying to achieve sustainability and continue making an impact on people.”
Flight Path, a program that starts with a retrospective and ends with a brand-new work made in collaboration with electric string quartet Spinphony, takes off on Friday, April 27, and Saturday, April 28, at 8 p.m., with matinee performances at 2 p.m. on April 28 and 29, at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut Street in Boulder. See the Frequent Flyers thirtieth-anniversary season schedule and pick up advance tickets to Flight Path, $28 to $30, online. À la carte class registration for the 2018 Aerial Dance Festival is currently available online; ticket sales for ADF performances begin on a date to be announced in May.