“It’s not every day you get to go work in a tree,” said Julia Taffe as she tied herself into a rigging device destined to haul her 15-feet up a majestic, middle-aged Sitka spruce.
On the fourth of July, the artistic director and founder of Aeriosa Vertical Dance Society taught Hawaiian visitor James Koshiba how to dance with, and in, trees.
Their dancing partners were a pair of Tofino trees or “Sitka Sisters” as Taffe called them, located at an intermediary spot just to the left of the pathway that leads to North Chesterman Beach.
The Sitkas were equipped with rope by Aeriosa riggers Colin Zacharias and Stephanie Hughes.
The rope ran up one tree and across to the other with two pulleys at the top, which linked the system together. For tree dancing, Aeriosa uses similar gear to rock climbing: GriGris—belay devices—carabiners, slings, harnesses, and climbing ropes.
“You have to trust the system; know the system is secure,” said Zacharias, a certified mountain and ski guide.
They look for trees with clean, vertical lines, he notes. “And, ones that don’t have a lot of moss or dangerous branches poking out.”
“The trees sway and they have to make these subtle little adaptations. However well [the dancers] are practiced and choreographed, every single day is different. Every day is a different temperature, a different humidity, the trees are closer together, they are a little further apart, sometimes they move independently.”
Koshiba said never in his life had he tried anything like tree dancing.
Yet, he managed to execute the beginner aerial movements with fluidity and composure.
“It seems like the ideal way to get over fear and attachment,” said Koshiba. “I’ve been thinking a lot about fear and attachment and how a lot of the stuff we are afraid of is because of the things we are attached to. This being up in the air is kind of confronting both at once.”
Taffe instructed him to use the physics of the pulley system to his advantage.
“Dance with the pull of the rope,” she said. “It’s all about cause and effect. Be really honest with the movement.”
She gently pushed off the tree trunk with the tips of her toes.
“Find the tempo; one, two, three, four,” she counted before her feet re-connected with the bark.
Over the course of three days, Taffe taught Koshiba and about 10 other students basic tree dancing body positions, like a spider-man sit, and introduced them to partner formations, small jumps, and movement sequences.
The Tofino Tree Dancing workshop was supported by the District of Tofino, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, and the Tofino Arts Council.
Aeriosa is open to booking private lessons and collaborating with communities for aerial dance performances. The aerial dance company can often be seen flying in the forest of Stanley Park in Vancouver and Saxe Point Park near Victoria. Recently, Taffe soared from an 800-year-old castle in Limerick, Ireland.
There are typically six dancers in a choreographed dance.
“We’ve been looking at big palms in Hawaii to dance on,” said Taffe.