By Mike Butler
She flies through the air with the greatest of ease. And although aerialist Michelle Milan knows her way around a trapeze, you’re more likely to catch her performing one of her elegant routines suspended by silks or a steel hoop known as a lyra.
A Scottsdale native, Milan, 25, is often hired to perform at Airpark-area corporate events, charity fundraisers and weddings.
Fans of Milan will have to wait a few months to see her perform again, though, unless they take an airplane.
Milan accepted a contract with Cirque du Soleil and on Nov. 21 left for a six-month performing and teaching position at Club Med Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
“I am beyond thrilled to begin this adventure!” Milan says. “I want to thank all my family — aerial and trapeze — and friends for always supporting and encouraging me.”
Milan gets performance gigs through Vertical Fix and Showstoppers Interactive Entertainment. Most of her performances take place at private gatherings. She has been doing free monthly iFly Trapeze shows on the grounds of the Phoenician.
Sometimes, clients want her to provide “ambient” entertainment, or they will ask her to do aerial bartending. Other times, clients ask for a polished performance, in which case she’ll carefully choreograph the sequence.
Choreography comes naturally to Milan, who began ballet at 9. She progressed through the Nina Marlow School of Ballet and the Master Ballet Academy, headed by renowned Polish dancer Slawomir Wozniak, who is also the artistic director of the Phoenix Ballet.
Milan also performed classical ballet and contemporary dance at Terpsicore Dance Company in Phoenix. She probably couldn’t pinpoint exactly how many times she has performed in “The Nutcracker,” “Paquita” or “Coppelia.”
While at the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in New Mexico a couple of years ago, Milan started having problems with her feet.
“They were breaking down,” she says. “I needed surgery.”
Her dance career over, and a little depressed, Milan took an aerial-silks class at a studio called Wise Fool in Santa Fe, and the footlights came back on.
“I didn’t think I could do it because I had no upper-body strength,” she says. “It was exhilarating. At the end of the class, I had no feeling in my wrists. I couldn’t grip the steering wheel on the drive home.”
Soon, she was steering her car back to the Valley.
A graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State, Milan won a prestigious Pulliam Fellowship and appeared to have a bright future in journalism. Unfortunately for her, that came just as the industry was downsizing.
She got a job with online-benefits company Zenefits and continued to practice aerial in her spare time. A fateful day occurred this year. Mulling a stressful buyout offer from another rapidly downsizing industry, Milan was asked if she’d like to teach aerial silks and trapeze at the Pali Adventures summer camp near Big Bear, California.
She joined the circus.
Milan held teaching jobs at Vertical Fix and Prowess Pole Fitness in Tempe, and at Dance Connection in Chandler, which are catering to the aerial fitness and aerial yoga craze, before the Cirque du Soleil offer came in the Dominican Republic .
“I have no plans to go back to an office job,” she says.
One of her current students at Vertical Fix joined because of the fluid way an upside-down Milan poured her a champagne at an Airpark event about a year ago.
“You can do anything when you put your mind to it,” Milan says. “And I always tell my students that.”