Local aerial acrobat grounds herself and others by going up
At any number of Missoula’s outdoor events, you may find a graceful woman dancing in mid-air with a giant ribbon of crimson fabric. Entwined with the cloth, she twirls and unfurls from one shape to another. You crane your neck, both worrying and watching for what she’ll do next. This is the graceful art and athleticism of Raven Summer, aerial acrobat and owner/head coach of Aerial Alchemy.
“Alchemy is about changing the mundane into gold,” explained Raven.
Born and raised in Missoula, Raven specializes in aerial silks. However, she’ll joke that she performs with “aerial polyester.”
Her mix of humor and humility found a voice when Raven discovered the welcoming community of circus.
“Circus is a place where marginalized people can celebrate their weirdness,” explained Raven. “You may be a freak in normal society, but you are celebrated in circus.”
Bearded ladies aside, Raven advocates for “Social Circus,” a growing movement which aims to reach beyond entertainment by fostering personal, social, and community development. Raven traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, for extensive teacher training from Carrie Heller, founder and Executive Director of Circus Arts Institute. There, she learned how to weave aerial skills into an educational template for all sorts of ability levels.
“We teach for any ability or disability but always in a non-judgmental way. There is a saying: “Circus Works.” Circus Art Therapy is an amazing tool for kids with special needs, and Social Circus is a vehicle for social, economic, and community advancement. “
Raven teaches all sorts of ages and abilities, in both private and semi-private lessons. She especially enjoys working with bored, rebellious kids who need an outlet.
“I know because I was a troubled kid, too,” she said.
Raven has also witnessed the transformative power in children with special needs.
“For kids who have limitations, like spatial awareness, get them up on a trapeze and, suddenly, they know exactly where their body is in space,” she beamed.
Raven discovered aerial acrobat work when she needed her own safe space to heal from deep struggles. Since then, she’s trained for fourteen years in the female-dominated sport.
“Quite literally, the pain and sorrow I’ve experienced has been transformed through aerial and circus. It’s made me who I am. It’s about taking what is our problems or pain and turning it into our power.”
Not many Missoulians dance in mid-air with a piece of fabric, but that doesn’t deter Raven from getting people up there. She strives to create an accepting space for anyone to discover and express themselves. That’s exactly where Raven wants to be— performing, coaching, and watching people transform.
Are you “up in the air” about giving it a try?