RENE ESLER, OWNER
Rene Esler is the owner of Challenge Aerial and adores the aerial arts, although she has no flexibility or natural grace so none of the apparatus comes easily to her. If you need a confidence boost, ask her how long it took her to get one of her toes to touch a trapeze, and you will walk away feeling pretty good about your accomplishments. With a half century of good living behind her, Rene is now more focused on enjoying the opportunity to learn the aerial arts than performing them, so you may often see her practicing but will rarely see her perform. A public health professional with more than 20 years of experience in infectious disease, program design, health communication and health literacy, Rene is also the Director of John Snow, Inc.’s Atlanta office. She has two daughters who are also aerialists and a husband who is happy to demonstrate his juggling skills when he is not out connecting communities impacted by natural disasters to resources that can help them rebuild. When Rene is not working or tending to her family or community, she is painting, gardening, baking or trying to get some sleep.
BETH DEL NERO, MANAGER
Beth’s aerial dance training began in 2006 at Canopy Studio in Athens, under the direction of Susan Murphy. When The D’Air Project opened in Atlanta in 2008 she began studying under then-directors Nicole Mermans and Andrea Fors and began teaching at D’Air in 2010. She has acquired a vast array of teaching experience since then, instructing children through adults, on trapeze, silks, sling, lyra, and flexibility training. Beth completed D’Air’s pilot teacher training program (overseen by NECCA) as well as other D’Air studio teacher trainings and professional workshops. She has been performing and chroreographing with D’Air Aerial Dance Company since its inception in 2009. In addition to aerial, Beth has studied ballet, pointe, jazz, contemporary, modern, and some hip-hop. She has taught numerous ballet, jazz, and contemporary classes throughout the Atlanta area and currently teaches ballet at The Atlanta Dance Academy. Her early performing experience includes working with Ginny King & Bacchus Productions, Dance Brasil samba, Gathering Wild modern dance, and Atlanta’s Dames Aflame showgirls (since 2004). She recently co-founded Two Chandeliers Entertainment with dancer/costume designer Stephanie Ludwig, and hires, choreographs for, and performs with their Vegas-style showgirls and go-go dancers. As a solo choreographer, Beth has done original works (both floor and aerial) for Dance Chance Atlanta, Skwhirlhaus, Decatur’s October Dance Gala, and Open Grip. She was a 2017 Dance Canvas Choreographer, debuting a contemporary/aerial piece at the Ferst Center.
After D’Air’s studio closed in September of 2017, Beth helped keep students going by teaching at various temporary locations around the city and began teaching the first trapeze classes at Inspire Aerial Arts. She is super excited to help realize the dream of Challenge Aerial by managing and teaching there, and is grateful for the opportunity given her.
FAREEDAH “FREE” ALEEM
Fareedah “Free” Aleem is energetic free spirited dancer from Los Angeles, CA. Raised both on the west coast and in the southern city of Atlanta, GA, her style of dance evokes both the free-flowing energy of the beaches on the Pacific, to the down home soul of the south! Beginning her professional career in Atlanta, she amazed crowds with her wild energy and sexy style, making her debut as the feature dancer in the Yin Yang Twins hit song ‘Shake It Like A Saltshaker’. Currently, as a member of the Legendary Grammy Award Winning Hip Hop band Arrested Development, she shares her talents as a dancer, choreographer and singer, touring all over the world!
While at home, as one of the instructors at Challenge aerial, she specializes in aerial fitness and performance aerial on a variety of apparatuses. As a Company member with the D’AIR, she hones her skills choreographing amazing aerial shows on Trapeze, Silks and a host of other apparatuses along with the other amazingly talented members and collaborators. Serving the community as an aerial instructor for over 5 years, teaching kids, teens and adults, Free has developed a passion for exposing this incredibly gratifying art form to the community at large, she teaches aerial fitness, developing workshops and programs designed to make the art form of aerial dance more accessible to all who have the desire to try it!
Annika Egerstedt has been studying aerial for 11 years. She specializes on fabric, but enjoys practicing and performing on most other aerial equipment. She also practices juggling, contortion, and partner balancing. With her twin sister, Olivia, she manages the Earth to Sky Teen Performance Troupe at Challenge, and performs professionally at various events in Atlanta. Annika has trained at several studios over the years, but Challenge is her home studio.
Annika has her Aerial Teacher Certification from Circus Arts Institute. She teaches teen and tween classes. She is currently a junior in high school. You can follow her circus account on Instagram @circus_twins_atl.
Olivia Egerstedt has been studying aerial since 2009. With her twin sister, Annika, she manages the Earth to Sky Teen Performance Troupe at Challenge, and performs around Atlanta. Olivia enjoys fabrics (silks and hammock) the most, but is also trained on most aerial equipment, as well as juggling and partner balancing.
Olivia has worked as an assistant teacher at Circus Arts Institute and Circus Camp, and has earned her Aerial Teacher Certification from Circus Arts Institute. She teaches teen and tween classes. She hopes to one day perform in a circus. She is currently a high school junior. Her circus Instagram is @circus_twins_atl.
Nicolette Emanuelle is a professional performance artist known for her fierce stage presence and her ability to mix multiple mediums in her performances. Her talents include aerial arts, stilt walking, burlesque, acting, performing on multiple instruments (most notably cello, piano, vocals and accordion) and musical composition. She is also the founder and co artistic director of The Hereafter Artist Collective whose mission is to bring the works of past artists to life through performance art.
Nicolette began her aerial training in 2009 in Portland, OR with Night Flight. Her previous background in performance had been in music and as one can imagine there is quite a difference in the physical requirements for doing aerial work. None-the-less she kept at it and in 2010 moved to Seattle, WA where she trained with The Cabiri under Charly McCreary and John Murphy, at Versatile Arts under Beverly Sobelman and was a performer in “Circus of Dreams.” She then moved to Atlanta, GA where she continued to train with D’AIR and under McKinley Campos. When The Space opened in 2014 she began teaching under the guidance of Mckinley Campos and Constance Palmer. She found a passion for teaching youth and helping beginner students find their aerial arts passion. She also offers consulting on theatrical projects that wish to incorporate aerial arts. She currently coaches Earth to Sky Co, a teen aerial performance troupe and teaches youth and adult aerial classes at Challenge Aerial Studio in Grant Park.
Emma began her training in ballet at age 4. From there she continued for the next 16 years studying classical and contemporary ballet, as well as modern dance. Through ballet Emma began practicing yoga and eventually transitioned to assisting and teaching. In 2012 she earned her 200hr RYS teaching certification. In 2015 she found aerial arts and it was love at first try.
Connecting people through movement is not just a passion but a way of life.
Emma is currently teaching and performing in the southeast.
Corrina Owens is an aerial artist specializing in aerial silks and sling. She began her love of circus arts at an early age and began officially training in 2013. Corrina began her training in the surrounding Atlanta area, and since then, has traveled across the states and internationally to advance her training and deepen her knowledge of aerial arts. Since 2015, she has been regularly instructing aerial silks and sling for students of all ages across Virginia, D.C., and Atlanta. Corrina considers herself a “fabric theory nerd” and is constantly finding creative ways to transform common sequences by finding new pathways and exploring styling variations. She enjoys sharing her passion for aerial arts by teaching in a safe and encouraging environment and is excited to share her passion with you at Challenge Aerial!
With more than 25 years of circus arts experience, Hilary is excited to be joining the team at Challenge Aerial. Hilary’s parents made the mistake of taking her to see a Cirque Du Soleil show at the age of 5 and she was immediately hooked! She started learning circus arts at Circus Camp in Atlanta at 5 and soon after began classes and private lessons with the owner, Carrie Heller, at her studio, the Circus Arts Institute. Hilary worked at Circus Camp for many years as a teenager and adult, moving from assistant instructor to aerial director over her years with the camp. She continued to work with Carrie Heller at the Circus Arts Institute from the age of 20, assisting in Circus Arts Therapy groups and individual sessions, as well as running their Circus Arts Fitness program for children and adults. She loves working with kids and adults, and has a lot of experience breaking down skills and making modifications so that the joy of circus can be shared by all! Although she rarely performs publicly anymore, she is always happy to do a little show off and has a lot of experience putting routines together and helping others do so. Hilary teaches silks, sling, trapeze, rope, and a little lyra, and her ground skills include hula hoop, juggling, and balance board/rola bola. She loves teaching private lessons, where she is able to adapt completely to her student’s goals and needs.
In her free time, Hilary enjoys spending time with her dogs, and doing weird stuff like restoring old steamer trunks and knitting.
Kat Saxon has been a practicing aerialist since 2013. Coming from Athens, Georgia, she began thriving amongst the trapeze masters at Canopy Studio. She has many Canopy teachers to thank such as The Schmidt sisters, Amy and Katie, Lauren Pauls, Melissa Wilson as well as Melissa Roberts.
Dance trapeze has been and always will be her one true aerial love. She enjoys inverting, twisting and turning in the ropes, balancing on the bar, along with spinning like a mad top. Choreographing pieces and improving to any music that moves her is where she feels she shines at her brightest. She enjoys exploring other apparatus as well, such as Lyra or Sling Fabrics.
She has been teaching since 2016, with a Nimble Arts Teacher Training Certification and really enjoys teaching private lessons, mapping out choreography, and overall aiding students in unlocking parts of themselves they never knew existed, much like what her instructors have done for her. She has decided to become a part of Challenge in order to spread her art throughout the community and inspire others to do the same.
SUZANNE LEE ZIGLER, In Memoriam but always present
Suzanne Lee Zigler was a beloved member of the Atlanta aerial community whose performances explored themes that were dark and curious but also humorous and often goofy. One her last performances (a favorite of Open Grip XII which took place at The Space in Atlanta, GA, September 2018) was a duet with performer Kat Saxon entitled “Janitorial Burlesque.” This comedic piece explored the lives of two lowly custodians who decide to give in to temptation and let their inner performer out and in the air on dance trapeze.
Suzanne was no stranger to movement when she started aerial in 2010. She studied gymnastics in high school (Michigan) and as an adult studied ballet at Atlanta Ballet. The influences from her previous training could be seen in her aerial movement through her lines and execution of strength. She was adept at choreographing for dance trapeze and fabric and always brought her own flair to every move she delivered, she was especially fond of spirals which could be seen in any of her many performances.
Suzanne performed at many different events in the Atlanta area: D’AIR student shows, Inspire Aerial Arts student shows, with Element Circus Entertainment, and was a regular at Open Grip (The Space). She was also a valued member of The Hereafter Artist Collective where she worked with the group to write, produce and perform works of performance art inspired by the works of past artists. Additionally Suzanne was a major contributor to the efforts in opening a community-centric aerial arts studio in her neighborhood of Grant Park, Challenge Aerial, which will open in March 2019.
Aerial arts was just one part of Suzanne’s life, she was also co-owner of Circus Hair Studio where she was regarded as a highly skilled hair artist, she was an attentive and proud mother and wife, she was a good friend to many and a giving member to the south Atlanta community. She passed away suddenly at the age of 53 and will be missed by her community, family and friends.