Time For Me to Fly

Aero Joe is a place of both dance and personal restoration.

by Cherri Ellis

Photography by Beth Hontzas / Jim Lafferty


Alison Page was a dance kid. Raised in the South, her mother ran her through the typical litany of extracurricular activities: ice skating, gymnastics, piano, horseback riding… soccer ended with her furiously asking her mother why they just wouldn’t give her the ball, and at tennis she would pirouette with every backhand. Alison, it appeared, was born to dance.

And dance she did. A graduate of the Alabama School of Fine Arts, she went on to get her undergraduate degree at University of Arizona, and then her Masters in Arts and Humanities Education with a Dance/Theatre Emphasis at NYU. When you’re 23 years old and making it as a dancer in New York City, your body thinks nothing of teaching Pilates all day, and then hopping the subway across town in freezing weather to teach additional classes at night. Newly married at 26 and craving familiarity and fresh opportunity, Alison and her husband moved back to Birmingham.

But no matter the city, no matter the medium, it is hard to make the arts pay. It worried Alison’s mom, and they had recurring conversations about how to turn her talent and training into a sustainable career. “You are capable of a better life,” her mom would say, and Alison would cut her off with, “I will figure it out!”

Life took an abrupt turn when Alison’s mom was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. She fought mightily, her voice silenced by a tracheotomy when the disease collapsed her lungs, and finally came home when there was nothing more the doctors could do for her.

Alison, irreparably changed through the experience of her mother’s lost battle, tried to heal by focusing on her choreography.  She was hungry to create again, but she found she now needed something more to achieve her vision—an extraordinary element that could express the harrowing details she had witnessed. One night in a random Google search, she came upon an aerial silk trainer. Things were about to change.

This is a story of a local girl made good, an ASFA-trained talent who went off on her path and discovered that, lucky for us, her path led her back here. Some cosmic tumbler fell into place and there was a resounding click as Alison’s training, heart, mind, and soul fell into place the day she opened the doors to Aero Joe.

When you were a kid, did you ever run at one of those rubber swings and let it catch you at your hips so you could arch your back and fly like Superman? At Aero Joe, that movement is called Flying Swan, and it feels amazing.

Located in Pepper Place, Aero Joe is a space of dance, restorative strengthening, Classical Pilates (both on the mat and on equipment), Vinyasa Yoga, and-—my personal favorite-—aerial classes. Step through the arching glass and iron doors, and you will be struck with the space itself: exposed brick walls, state of the art apparatus, and white stretchy lengths of silk looping from the ceiling to a few feet above the floor. An aerial class combines the core work of Pilates with the meditative qualities of yoga and the grace and beauty of dance. It is mesmerizing, simultaneously easy yet difficult, as you use the fabric and gravity and strength to suspend and stretch and strengthen your body.

The fabric is a little silky, a little stretchy…big enough that you can get all the way inside it but thin enough that you can gather it up in one hand.  The instructors might look like adorable little dancers, but you could swing a barstool at their abs, and it would splinter.  Whatever your age, skill level, or history, they will work you closer to your goal in a customized, tangible way. I have been in class with a woman whose only dance experience took place on a disco floor, a woman who is a straight–up jock, a man who followed his girlfriend in but ended up with mad skills, and many actual dancers who could easily run away to the Cirque Du Soleil.

Two of the Aero Joe instructors are members of Alison’s dance company, AROVA, which she founded seven years ago. They combine contemporary ballet and aerial dance choreography to create an incredibly cool medium; they can dance in the sky!

So check this out-—in November, on Veteran’s Day, they are performing in conjunction with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra at the Southern Museum of Flight. Girls flying in silks above antique planes while the symphony plays? That is a lot of bang for your entertainment/arts/cultural dollar, so get your tickets early. I will see you there.

Aero Joe has a cool vibe.  I love that there is no swooshy spa music.  My friend Dianne, who has undergone surgery on her back so barbaric I will spare you the details, nailed it when she said, “When I walk into Aero Joe, I feel a calming energy that sets the tone for serious body work.”  There is a morning class that can be preceded or followed by the Farmers Market, and for a fun date or Girl’s Night Out?  Take the 5:30 p.m. class, walk to Cantina or Betolla, and try to reverse the benefits of class with food and drink.

It’s getting more popular every day and is most likely destined to franchise. Alison is living life out loud as a choreographer, teacher, entrepreneur, and healer. The dancers of AROVA are doing what they do best, and Birmingham residents have a fresh, new method of reaching for the stars.  And Alison, just as she assured her mother she would, figured it out.

*Tickets for the Veteran’s Day AROVA performance with the ASO at the Southern Museum of Flight can be bought at arova.org 

**To check out AROVA performing “Nuit Blanche,” by Alison Page, go to youtube.com/watch?v=kqRlJfjvlHw

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