Up in the air: Sycamore aerial troupe performs upside down all around town

SYCAMORE – Erika Ellis is afraid of heights. But, Melissa Lerohl loves heights.

Together, Ellis and Lerohl are a duo on the lyra hoop, flipping and bending artistically on the round hoop suspended in the air.

The two women are entertainers with Performing Arts Academy’s Artists in Air, an aerial troupe of about eight performers that travels around northern Illinois. The youngest performer is 7 years old.

Performing Arts Academy has two locations: 212 W. State St. in Sycamore and 425 Lincoln Highway in Rochelle.

“It’s really easy for me, and I just like learning new tricks,” said Ellis, who is 24 and an instructor. “I’m not a very decent dancer, but I enjoy being up in the air. I started doing it because I was scared of heights. But when I’m up in the air, I’m thinking about tricks. I don’t really think about the height, I just enjoy doing it.”

Lerohl, 18, however, loves the fact that she’s up high in the air.

“I love being up there, the feeling of free falling,” Lehrohl said. “There’s always a chance and the risk of falling, which makes it a little dangerous and fun. It’s something I just love to do.”

Upcoming Artists in Air community performances include Genoa Days, Kirkland Days, the Sycamore car show, the Sycamore farmers market, DeKalb Corn Fest and Sycamore Pumpkin Festival. The aerial troupe recently performed at Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park during its Midwest Tulip Fest. Artists in Air can perform anywhere using an outdoor rig.

There also will be two Performing Arts Academy performances indoors at the Egyptian Theatre: ”Candyland” on June 3 and ”Into the Hollow” on June 4. Tickets can be purchased online at www.egyptiantheatre.org.

Performing Arts Academy offers programs for youth ages 3 to 18, including ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical, contemporary, aerial silks and tumbling.

The academy will offer two themed camps June 13-16: “Into the Hollow Magical Adventure Camp” with dance, dress up and creativity, and a circus camp featuring aerial silks, lyra hoop, tightwire, hand balancing, trapeze and more.

There also will be four weeks of an intermediate summer workshop and a summer intensive workshop, as well as summer dance classes.

Jodi Riley, owner of Performing Arts Academy, said the academy offers a dance studio, aerial troupe and a competition team and instructs about 150 students.

“I grew up dancing, and it’s been a passion I’ve always had,” Riley said. “It’s an outlet for emotion and energy. Dancing teaches you life lessons: strong work ethic, dedication and commitment, technique and how to collaborate and work with others. There are also life-long friendships made.”

Performing Arts Academy was established in 2002, and the Artists in Air aerial troupe started in September 2021.

“I started the aerial troupe to give students an opportunity to practice and perform aerial art,” Riley said. “Our goal is to compete in Viva Fest. It’s held in Las Vegas in April every year.”

Riley’s daughter, 17-year-old Jillian Riley, is a performer and teacher at the academy. She said her favorite aerial art apparatus is the trapeze.

“I like that [aerial art] is so different from anything else in Sycamore,” Jillian Riley said. “I’ve been doing it since I was 8. It teaches you strength, muscle memory and you learn different movements.”

Jillian Riley said interest in aerial art has been growing recently.

“I think most people relate it to Cirque du Soleil,” she said. “Some people might think there’s nothing to do in Sycamore. I love doing [aerial art] in a town that’s not really known for that. It’s something not too many people do, and I love that it’s different and a lot of fun.”

For more information about Performing Arts Academy, visit www.sycamoreballet.com.

Katrina Milton

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.