The Six Questions

OAKLAND MAGAZINE: January/February 2011

Who: Terry Sendgraff, 77, Oakland

What: She’s a retired performer who pioneered a type of aerial dance called Motivity using trapeze bars, hoops, harnesses and slings. She’s also the founder of the first women’s trapeze dancing troupe in the nation, Fly By Nite, and the first women’s stilting troupe called Women Walking Tall.

In high school, Sendgraff was influenced by her art and physical education teachers. She studied dance and gymnastics and learned to “fly” on the trapeze. “When I moved to California, I didn’t want to do circus work,” she says, adding, “I wanted to do a dance that brought the trapeze down to where I could hang onto it and dance with it.” Closer to the ground, she says she could fall off safely and roll and dance with it and not get hurt.

Where: As the “mother of aerial dance,” Sendgraff has performed all over the world, including a number of birthday performances in Berkeley. “On the eve of my 41st birthday, I performed for all of my friends and anyone else who wanted to come — and that was the beginning. I decided it was a good way to celebrate and perform and have the community see someone over 40 dancing.”.

Why: Sendgraff says aerial dancing is a joyful and spiritual experience — more of a meditation than a technical accomplishment. “It’s very uplifting — and I don’t mean that to be a pun,” she says.

How:  The aerial apparatus consists of trapezes of different heights and sizes, along with horizontal and vertical hoops, rope and harness fabric, slings and a web. When she’s teaching (at Eighth Street Studio in Berkeley), the equipment is no more than 4 feet off the ground for beginners. “Then when I choreograph, I let the younger women go up higher.”


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