Local aerialist brings grace, elegance, and connection to performances … and classes
By Hilary Dartt
Jen Martin is a master of movement, transitioning from one skill to the next with the grace and fluidity earned after years of dance training. She is strong and elegant, creative and artistic.
And she accomplishes all this while suspended in the air on one of several different apparatus.
Jen, who goes by Jen James professionally, is a Prescott-based aerial performer and instructor with an impressive curriculum vitae. She grew up dancing with Janne Cavalleri and Donna Casey here in town, went to college in St. Louis, and then began an impressive performance career in New York, where she and a friend started a dance-based entertainment company.
While she worked as a dancer, Jen’s employer hired an aerialist … and she was hooked.
The event where they met was at Cipriani 42nd Street, which Jen called “one of the most iconic venues in NYC.”
“The vision of a person in the air within an incredibly decorated space was just so gorgeous and jaw dropping. Her performance just added to the magic.”
Jen quickly realized that she loves being entranced and enchanted by how people move within the air space.
She began taking classes and then incorporated aerial performance into her entrepreneurial journey, teaching classes at Crunch Fitness and becoming Director of Aerial Programming at Body & Pole (both in New York). Over the course of the past 15 years, she has choreographed, produced, and performed for the likes of Estee Lauder, ABC Good Morning America, Pepsi, ESPN, Polesque, Resorts Casino, The Box NYC, and House of Yes, just to name a few.
Aerial performers typically work on an apparatus suspended from the ceiling. These can hang from one or two points and include silks, hammocks, lyras (hoops), straps, nets, cubes, and more. Floor-based apparatus include poles and lollipop poles.
“Some people are very focused on one apparatus,” Jen said, “but I’m like, ‘Give me more!’”
While many aerialists go from skill to skill, Jen said, she likes to put her dance experience to use, incorporating fluid transitions between skills.
Jen and her husband, Jon, and their three children moved back to Prescott in 2019, and she began teaching classes locally at the YMCA and Drive Rx Crossfit Prescott. She also offers workshops for events like ladies’ night out or bachelorette parties (a great feature: her burlesque workshop).
Aerial training is similar to TRX® suspension training in that it’s full body weight, but it’s different in that it incorporates beautiful, graceful, flowing movements.
Of teaching what she calls “fun fitness,” Jen said, “I love seeing people achieve goals whether they knew they had them or not.”
As her students learn, they make strides, hit plateaus, and then grow beyond those plateaus when they master new skills—and that is fulfilling to see.
Each class can be tailored for all levels, and Jen invites anyone “wanting a fun way to work out and learn a new skill set that’s unique” to attend.
She loves fostering a positive community environment in class, where attendees cheer each other on and celebrates successes together.
“I like to share it,” she said.
Jen’s passion for performing hasn’t diminished. Even if a venue doesn’t have the steel beams required for suspended aerial performances, she can use floor-based apparatus to put on shows (and bartending!) at corporate events, weddings, private parties, and more, and can create a show to match any theme (she once performed on a 20-sided apparatus at a math conference and has done disco, goth, and glam among others).
Her favorite thing about performing: “Engaging with the audience through eye contact or body language … it’s that moment. I love it when it’s choreographed, but I love it even more when I’m within a freestyle performance and really have the ability to connect with people in the audience.”
Learn more about Jen and her performances, classes, and tutorials at suspendedfluidity.com and jen-james.com. Follow her on Instagram @suspendedfluidity.