Beyond Limits Aerial Dance formed in Salem last year. (Courtesy/ Beyond Limits Aerial Dance)

On a stormy Wednesday evening, a group of dancers does crunches in a shop on the Willamette University campus.

They’re conditioning to perform dance routines in which they’ll wrap their legs around steel circles or cubes suspended from the ceiling, contorting their bodies into full splits or dangling upside down during a performance set to music.

Beyond Limits Aerial Dance, a company which formed in Salem about a year ago, is a group of classically trained dancers that take their skills into the air.

The group performed at the Englewood Forest Festival and most recently at TEDx Salem.

“We try and create pieces that actually say something versus just entertain,” said EJ Reinagel, an artistic director at the company. “We want something that the audience walks away feeling something.”

Reinagel and Jessi Fouts met while working with Quixotic, a performance art collective that does aerial dancing in Kansas City.

Fouts, an occupational therapy assistant, moved west in 2010. Reinagel started teaching theater technology at Willamette University the following year. In addition to the dance company, he also teaches an aerial conditioning class at the college.

Fouts and Reinagel started Beyond Limits to create aerial offerings in the Salem community. They’re hoping to find a dedicated space to practice and eventually offer classes.

Reinagel said he choreographs aerial pieces based on personal struggles the dancers are going through.

“Everybody knows when somebody is saying something honest,” he said.

The performances are physically demanding, and the dancers said they have to push through the pain to perform in a way that conveys meaning, all while being 10 feet in the air.

Fouts said its dance in 360 degrees, because there’s not a floor.

She said it’s an emotional and mental challenge thinking about “How can I get through all this and do the movements that I want to do on the apparatus?”

Samantha McLean said she did aerial dancing for the first time in November and was surprised she could do it.

She described it as “that high of being up in the air dancing.”

Dancer Erin Trine said working with the group has made her a better person.

“I think it’s really special to have people believe in me in ways that I don’t is something really valuable,” Trine said. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250 or [email protected].