Vertical dance 'pioneers' defy the laws of gravity

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  • Using ropes and cables, dance company BANDALOOP perform intricate routines off the side of skyscrapers and cliffs

(CNN)They've danced suspended from the side of skyscrapers and performed on rock cliffs more than 2,700 feet up in the air -- but they don't want to be called daredevils.

California-based dance company, BANDALOOP, have turned dancing as you know it upside down and sideways.
    For more than twenty years their stage has been the side of buildings, bridges, cliffs and billboards and their warm-ups something more akin to rock climbing as the group have performed for audiences around the world.
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    "We're not daredevils, we just like to celebrate the human spirit," Amelia Rudolph, BANDALOOP's founder and artistic director, says.
    "Especially in today's world, where there are so many sad things happening, I think it's really important to do something that instills a feeling of possibility," she continues.

    On pointe

    The group's eclectic style of dance draws on abseiling and trapeze to challenge preconceptions of what is physically possible and reconsider the way gravity and movement interact.
    Indeed, to be able to keep their bodies perpendicular to the sideways stages, the dancers rely on rock climbing technology -- and exceptionally strong abdominal muscles.
    Yet while the company included both climbers and dancers when it was founded in 1991, today, most performers are modern dancers.
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    "It's much easier to teach a dancer to climb than a climber to dance," says 52-year-old Rudolph, who still dances vertically for a living. "The truth is it's easier on your joints than normal dancing," she says.
    But it's not just bodily joints that need attention. Apart from the direct challenges posed by performing sideways, vertical dancers also have to take caution not to land on surfaces like delicate windows.
    "Most dancers take smooth and flat dance floors for granted, while ours consist of windows, ledges and other architectural features," Rudolph says.

    Structured art

    BANDALOOP looks for opportunities to dance on structures that are themselves works of art. Every time the group performs they adjust the choreography to site-specific characteristics.
    They hope to one day dance on the side of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao -- a spectacular titanium building with reflective curled walls designed by Frank Gehry, to challenge the connections between art and architecture.
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    They've already danced in more than 100 different sites around the world, including mountaintops in the Himalayas and Yosemite national park. To get to the latter they first had to climb for six days and five nights, before they reached their dance destination on the top of El Capitan.
    Although Amelia doesn't necessarily like how audiences watch BANDALOOP with a nervous type of excitement, she says that it is that "triggered space" that makes the performance so impactful and emotional to watch.
    "In that triggered space the audience is drawn into the experience and they're feeling what we are feeling as we are flying through the air. I think it pulls them out of their everyday life," says Rudolph.