Dancer Abby Watkins in rehearsal for Serendipity an Aeriosa performance in downtown Vancouver.

Passion taken to new heights

When she’s not guiding travellers through the Rocky Mountains she can be found flying through the air on the outside of city skyscrapers.

When she’s not guiding travellers through the Rocky Mountains she can be found flying through the air on the outside of city skyscrapers.

Abby Watkins, originally from Australia, has made Golden her home for the past 13 years.

“I was living in California at the time, and I was looking for the perfect place… I was at the time a professional climber, and I was really into ice climbing,” she said. “The best place in the world to ice climb is the Canadian Rockies.”

Watkins came to North America as a teenager, on a gymnastics scholarship to the University of California Berkeley.

She fulfilled her one-year competitive gymnastics contract, and decided to move onto other things.

“I immediately found dance at Berkeley, although my major was biology. And I also found rock climbing. It flowed really easily, I was well set up to do both of those things,” said Watkins.

Those two passions have taken her to new heights, to the tops of mountains and the tops of buildings.

In 2001 a new dance troupe was forming in Vancouver, and when the artistic director, Julia Taffe, was looking for talent in California, she was told that Watkins has recently  moved to Canada.

Watkins became one of four dancers, including Taffe, to perform at the opening of the Scotiabank Dance Centre Building in Vancouver as Aeriosa Dance Society.

“It wasn’t even called Aeriosa then. It was just us four dancers. We danced at the opening of the dance centre in Vancouver… We danced on the outside of the building. And then last year we were invited back to dance for their 10 year anniversary,” said Watkins.

Aeriosa specialized on dancing on the outside of buildings when attached to ropes. They have grown to six core dancers, and had as many as 12 in 2010 when they were part of the Cultural Olympiad.

“Most recently, a week ago, we performed on a building in Toronto, a skyscraper. It was pretty cool. It was an unfinished building, so we were part of their topping-off party,” said Watkins.

“It was really neat to perform for an audience in Toronto. They’re getting kind of used to us in Vancouver, but in Toronto we were something different.”

There were no windows above the 30th floor, so they were able to drill into the concrete for their performance.

“You do things closer to the building up higher, but you often look tiny. By the time you get down low the rope is so long you have this amazing loft, which means you can just fly off the building and do huge pendulums. It can be really breathtaking,” said Watkins.

“I forget how breathtaking they are, because I’m rarely on the ground looking up, and it kind of catches in your throat. It’s like a human flying. It’s such a beautiful thing, it really affects people emotionally.”

Watkins is hoping to bring Aeriosa to Golden sometime in the future for a residency.

She would like to teach some workshops, and maybe set up some performances either in the theatre or on a local cliff.