How we learned to become “Belay-rinas” a reflection on the process of training for “Leaping Off the Wall”

by choreographer and director, Sarah Morrison.

MorrisonDance has recently embarked on a very new process – top-rope belay, or “vertical dancing.” Catalyzed by Emily Appelbaum, Artistic Director of Ingenuity Cleveland, we found some experts to help us climb a little higher for presentation at the upcoming festival.

Salina Bartunek-Andrews

Salina Bartinuk-Andrews gave MorrisonDance a “boost” with her rigging and aerial expertise.

In consultation with Salina Bartunek-Andrews (climbing champion-competitive athlete-broadway dancer-Elektra from American Gladiator), Lee Zickel (former owner of the Cleveland Rock Gym), Dan Merriman (safety/rescue), and Dan Tyson (perspicacious friend and advisor), I have noticed a parallel between rigging and dancing: the vital importance of replication.

In the rigging world, everything has a back-up. “Redundancy” applies to doubling up on everything so that even though the first rigging point is not likely to fail, there is ALWAYS a backup.


Rehearsing on the vertical stage!


In today’s mad rush of productivity and instant gratification, something is often overlooked. Redundancy. Duplication. Time. Mastery. This is why I have always loved dance. It is a place where we are allowed to practice. We are allowed to test ideas more than once, and in multiple ways. Not just allowed to, but REQUIRED to. It is a place where we have the luxury of being mandated to TAKE THE TIME to repeat something so many times that we can eventually do it automatically and confidently.



Even when I improvise, I like to have multiple back-ups to allow for failure. As a choreographer, behavioral researcher, and an educator I believe that allowing the possibility of safe failure is the most important component of discovery. It is so exciting to see this in such a tangible, obvious set-up as the multiple slings, carabiners and ropes that support our dancing bodies safely over three stories from the ground.

MorrisonDance Belay certification

MorrisonDance performers (L to R) Dana Wasielewski, MaryPat Dorr, Sarah Morrison, Jenni Hankey, and Amanda Clark receive their belay certification and embark upon creating for a vertical stage at Ingenuity Cleveland.


Working with the MorrisonDance performers in this new medium has been grueling and rewarding, and we are all now belay certified and have  over 20 hours “on the wall.” While we are just beginning our journey into vertical dancing, we are excited to enter into a new technique that values “redundancy,” time, patience, and grit just as much as dance.

We will be sharing our vertical dance developments at the Ingenuity Cleveland Festival in the transformed Osborn Industrial Complex, which also houses our rehearsal studio.

The festival will take place Friday-Sunday, September 22-24th, 2017 at 5401 Hamilton Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114.

“Leaping Off the Wall” will be presented at 8:30pm and 10:30pm on Friday, September 22 and Saturday, September 23, 2017.

Admittance to the Festival is $5 and children 12 and under are free. Tickets to IngenuityFest are on sale now at

“Leaping Off the Wall” has been supported by the Ohio Arts Council’s ArtsNEXT program.

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