On the Wings of a DoveFormer Oxonian Ellie Williams spends her days soaring around downtown Los Angeles. But Mississippi is where the Astro Dove's journey began.
BY ELIZABETH PEARSON
It could be a bird. Or a plane! Nah, it’s Elli Williams, a member of aerial acrobatics group Astro Doves, swinging in the air as vibrant silk sheets tightly hold her limber body as she effortlessly shifts from one position to another.
Williams hasn’t always soared above ground in aerial yoga and acro routines on the West Coast (mainly in Los Angeles and the Bay Area of San Francisco), however. She made a start in Oxford by getting her yoga teacher’s certification at Southern Star Yoga Center and danced with LedaSwan, a not-for-profit organization based in Oxford and San Jose, California, that supports creative music and dance collaborations bridging geographic, cultural and aesthetic distance.
Established in yoga and dance, Elli knew she eventually needed to get her feet off the ground. “I needed to move the dancing into the air and see how many of my different passions could come together,” she says.
When she moved to Los Angeles with her husband, Joseph Williams, she knew she had to focus on the opportunities that were ahead of her really. After all, L.A. is where one goes to perform.“Depending on where you live there are a lot of different options,” she said. “It’s like having a bunch of little Oxfords all next to each other. I starting creating some of my own opportunities while getting to know the community.”
Moving to up-and-coming downtown L.A. opened many doors (and ceiling space) for Elli to rig in her silks, hammocks, and aerial apparatuses.
While aerial yoga in Los Angeles is nothing new, there aren’t many downtown options. Elli made her next career move in 2016, starting an aerial program at a yoga and Pilates studio and an acro yoga program at another studio downtown. Elli performs with another Astro Doves aerialist at night clubs, including Bootie LA where they perform Beyonce vs. Rihanna mashups.
“Improv gigs keep you sharp,” she says. “It keeps you and your partner communicating non-verbally. You have to roll with the punches, but something has to be said for fine-tuning choreography and having creative control. I enjoy that.” They have also performed at a Star Wars-themed show where they created a routine as storm troopers and robots, as well as a wild west burlesque. “A little tricky for aerialists because most of the time you have to be fully clothed so you don’t get burned, bruised and all the rest,” she says.
In addition to her tumbles and turns in the air, she tries to stay balanced and grounded during the day. “Sometimes it is hard to be able to take a class, but I think that it is important to study under people,” she says. “All you need is your body. You really don’t even need a mat. You use whatever you have.” She says there is always a part of her day where she is teaching, and conveyed the importance of maintaining her own balanced workout. “I have to get my leg workout in,” she says. “It is really easy just to keep doing pullups all day long.”
She also enjoys taking her workouts to the beach because there is a welcoming acrobatic community. Plus, she can ride her bike there. “I am at the beach a lot, so I get to play with all my loves of being on the ground, being on people, being in the air,” she says. “It is a great community to do your acrobatics, your pushups outside among other fun and healthy people.”
Although Elli is in Los Angeles, she would love to return to Oxford for a visit and maybe even teach a class in the future. “I still love the yoga studios there where I practiced,” she says. “I would love to do a workshop.”
ELIZABETH PEARSON is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2011.