She Spins in the Air with the Greatest of Ease

Sarah Johns on aerial silk (Photo by Michael Church)

Sarah Johns on aerial silk (Photo by Michael Church)

Filipinos are everywhere even in the unlikeliest places. So it is not a surprise to find that Sarah Angelina Bustillo Johns is one of CC&Co.’s aerial dancers.

CC&Co. is a non-profit aerial and dance organization founded by Caroline Calouche, who is originally from Gastonia, North Carolina. Aside from teaching aerial dance (e.g., silk, sling, trapeze and aerial hoop), the company also teaches contemporary dance, jazz, tap, ballet and hip-hop. There are also circus classes, such as contortion and partner acro. Classes are open to students from age six to adults. 

Charlotte, North Carolina, has become a major US financial center. After New York, it is the second largest banking hub in the US. Because of the city’s bustling economy, the city’s arts and culture scene has also thrived. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the unique creative opportunities that Caroline Calouche & Co. (CC&Co.) offers to the people of Charlotte.

CC&Co. has a training program for students who can become members of the Youth Ensemble that performs in one or two season shows and outdoor events with the company dancers. There are three season shows a year at the Booth Playhouse in the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, where CC&Co. is a resident company.

A Filipina American, Johns attributes her amazingly supportive family for giving her the strength to do what she loves. “Even spread out,” she says, “across continents, we have such a strong bond that I feel blessed to have that.”

Sarah Johns right side up (Photo by Jamie Larkin)

Sarah Johns right side up (Photo by Jamie Larkin)

She loves to recall her childhood. “I grew up climbing trees, never afraid to get dirty and never too girly to play catch with dad,” she remembers. Some of her favorite memories are from her lolo (grandfather) and lola’s (grandmother) house in Louisiana, riding the tractor outside on Easter to look for eggs around the yard, and finding a new pet bunny for her and her two brothers. Her lolo’s suman (rice cake wrapped in banana leaves) was her favorite snack when she was growing up.

Johns was born into the arts. Her lolo was a medical doctor and an artist. Her lolo and lola were both musicians, as well as her mother and brothers. She and her brothers were all involved in theater, choir and band. “I guess,” she explains, “I really love that you can express yourself through music, or you can escape into another character.”

The term aerial dancer never crossed Johns’s mind even in her artistic upbringing. However, a friend visited her right before her 21st birthday and he wanted to look at a rock-climbing center while he was in Charlotte. There were some aerial silks hanging in a corner of the gym, and she was curious about it. The same night, she signed up for a full semester of classes at CC&Co. and never looked back.

What does it take to be a good aerial dancer? “Core strength!” she replies. “It involves arm strength and flexibility in general.” However, aerial dancers do not generally go to the gym. They just train and practice at the studio.

Tanya Burke, who has toured with Cirque du Soleil, assists Sarah Johns with an elbow bridge during a contortion workshop (Photo by Theresa Browning).

Tanya Burke, who has toured with Cirque du Soleil, assists Sarah Johns with an elbow bridge during a contortion workshop (Photo by Theresa Browning).

Johns is usually nervous backstage before she performs. But once the music starts, it is all about her performance. “I love feeling connected with the audience she says,” she says. Performing is such an adrenaline rush. And it is getting the satisfaction of a job well done!”

She usually choreographs her solos. But Calouche or one of the company dancers choreographs the main-stage shows. Dance, however, does not define everything at C&CCo. The performers are just friends hanging out, who also happen to be dancing together. In one rehearsal, Johns and Calouche were practicing a duet on an aerial hoop, which was supposed to end in hip circles or perpetual rollers. They were facing each other, head to feet, with their hips and hands on the aerial hoop, and pushing with their legs to keep up rolling around the bar. However, they had just re-taped the hoop with fresh hockey tape for grip. Both of their pants got stuck to the hoop and got wrapped around the bar and the other person’s pants! “Luckily, we were wearing leotards, so I was able to slip out of my pants to come down and unravel ourselves!” Johns remembers, laughing.

“And it was a rehearsal! What would we have done if it were a performance?” They often find themselves laughing during rehearsals, but it makes it easier to go back the next day.

Sarah Angelina Bustillo Johns says never say never to aerial dance. It looks hard, and it is hard. But anyone can come take a class at Caroline Calouche & Co. and get something out of it.“It’ll build up strength and flexibility!” she advises. “And don’t give up! Persistence really helps you get used to the way the fabric feels until everything just clicks, and you’ve got it!”  

When the music plays, she holds tightly to the fabric and effortlessly goes up to perform up, up in the air!

Caroline Calouche & Co.
9135-E Monroe Rd.
Charlotte, NC 28270
Tel. (704) 844-0449

Rey E. de la Cruz

Rey E. de la Cruz

Rey E. de la Cruz, Ed.D. writes from Chicagoland when he is not busy traveling and loving the arts.

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