The sky's the limit: Aerial dance takes off in Boulder

Nancy Smith founded her aerial dance school Frequent Flyers Productions in 1988, expanded to a new studio in January, and now brings the 12th annual Aerial Dance Festival to The Dairy in Boulder this weekend, August 6-8. She's been hanging around (as it were) in the aerial dance community for more than two decades. Now that the art form she helped teach to fly is finally soaring, she's in as much awe as anybody: "Between Cirque, and the opening ceremonies at the Olympics and the Super Bowl halftime show and the Democratic National Convention, there's just been tremendous new interest in this art form, and a lot of new people interested in trying it," Smith says.

"The response since we opened our new studio in January has been fantastic," she continues. "We had 200 people come through the door just in the first two weeks, and now we're accommodating a whole range of ages, with classes for 5 and 6 year-olds, a whole kids program we're developing, and new classes for adults. This year we went from offering 3 classes a week to 21 classes a week. It's been huge."

That's explosive growth by any measure, and Smith just lit another fuse, almost by accident: Groupon.

"Oh. My. God. Yes," Smith says, still in disbelief. On June 21, she sold 615 Groupon discounts for 50 percent off aerial fabric and trapeze classes, the latest in a long line of local business owners to underestimate the overwhelming power of the site's daily deals. "Can you believe that? We thought we would maybe get 50 to 100 people. Holy frijole! We spent the whole day watching the numbers and just freaking out."

To meet the demand, she'll have to expand her class schedule even further in the coming weeks. First things first: She's got a festival to get off the ground.

"We have a lot of great visiting teachers coming for the festival," Smith says. "Kevin O'Connor from Canada's Tipping Point Productions will be teaching and performing, Alessandra Ogren from Wise Fool New Mexcio will be doing a new piece on aerial stilts, we'll have aerial fabric work by Sarah Poole, we'll have trapeze work by the twins Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion from Nimble Arts, and contact improvisation work by Steve Homsher and Gretchen Spiro from Tumblebones."

The Frequent Flyers Productions crew will be in flight, as well: Watch for Catherine Bedell, Valerie Morris, Danielle Hendricks, and Smith herself.

"I love teaching at the festival," says Smith, a specialist in low-trapeze and "invented apparatus" performances, using devices of her own design. "It feels like we're reinventing flight every time."

Aerial Dance Festival tickets are $25 at or 303-444-7328. For more information, visit Performances take place Friday, August 6 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, August 7, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, August 8 at 2 p.m.