Her bright red ribbons and black clothing are vivid against the green and brown scenery surrounding Bishop’s Peak. She floats through the air, demonstrating strength and flexibility beyond belief. The trees support her every move, as if they are dancing with her. This is not your typical performance. This is Rebekah Ruffo in her element as an aerial dancer.
“I love when people come by and are amazed and can live vicariously through me and just want to stop and watch for a little while,” she said. “I like blending into the background . . . where people are just hanging out and I’m having my own enjoyment of climbing on fabric; hanging from a tree.”
Ruffo, a math senior, said she tries to go to Bishop’s every weekend, where the community can stumble upon her art.
“My ultimate aim for all my dancing is to simply dance as praise to the artist of this world,” she said.
In order to explain it to people, Ruffo related aerial dancing to Cirque du Soleil, which has aerial dancers in the shows. She said it is sometimes called “ribbon” or “fabric” dancing.
“In the kind of aerial dancing I do the key word is dancing,” she said. “I am not out to be in the circus. The background I am coming from is a fusion of dance and gymnastics.”
Ruffo has been doing gymnastics since she was 10 in her hometown of Redlands, Calif. She never officially took dance lessons but took “sample” classes at studios. She then practiced what she learned in her garage.
“I have kept my strength and flexibility by constantly practicing at home,” she said. “When I came to Cal Poly and dance classes came free with tuition, I started dancing . . . but the thing in the back of my mind is, ‘I’ve got to take dance into the air.'”
Ruffo began aerial dancing in August of this year. While studying abroad in Thailand over spring quarter, she began reasearching Aerial Dance and discovered the Aerial Dance Festival in Boulder, Colo. Ruffo signed up for a beginning class, but her teachers soon said she should move to a more advanced class.
“I was spatially capable of the more advanced classes, so I switched into the class where I got to learn more than enough to have a career in aerial dance,” she said.
When Ruffo returned to San Luis Obispo, she was equipped with this knowledge and her own 50 feet of fabric to work with.
“I had no idea where I was going to hang it,” she said. “My friend Dave, who’s an engineer, helped me come up with an easy way of rigging it around a tree limb, and I use an inflatable mattress as my crash pad.”
Ruffo has only used her own fabric about 10 times, but has enough experience to begin performing. As a member of the Orchesis Dance Company on campus, Ruffo and Orchesis Director Maria Junco discussed trying to make aerial dancing a part of the performances.
“Aerial dance is an exciting contemporary style of dance, or sometimes an element in contemporary dance, that would add dimension – literally and metaphorically – to our concert,” Junco said. “Our campus and local community should be seeing dance that extends beyond more traditional forms.”
However, logistical problems have gotten in the way. Because Orchesis performs in the Spanos Theatre, rigging fabric for aerial dancing is not possible, Junco said.
“It could be done in a performing situation where you didn’t have horizontal riggings that would get in the way of the aerial apparatus when it swings,” she said. “I think it could be done in the theatre, but not in a situation where there were lights and fly-ins for other dances in the same concert.”
Junco suggested rigging Ruffo to a tree outside the theatre as a pre-show performance, but they are still deciding if it will work.
Regardless, Ruffo plans to continue to aerial dance at Bishop’s, still astonishing those who come across her art where nature is her stage.