By Sarah Colson
When she was just a little girl, East Tennessee State University alumna Lindsey Morrow wasn’t just doing splits. She was doing full splits, then grabbing her back calf and touching that toe to her head.
Many years later, she’s a successful professional contortionist and aerial performer/instructor based in Kansas City. Last Wednesday, while in town visiting family, she held a beginner’s class at Appalachian Tumbling and Gymnastics.
“I was a really bendy little kid and I got a lot of attention in my class for it,” Morrow said. “I wanted to impress my teachers. They’d say, ‘OK in your split go back and grab your calf’ and whatever they told me I would do. I didn’t notice that not everybody was doing this same thing.”
Morrow’s raw talent at an early age may have surprised some, but she has never been a stranger to athleticism. Her dad, Coach Lee Morrow, has spent the last 29 years serving as ETSU’s head strength and conditioning coach. In 2004, Morrow became a member of the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA), and in 2005 was named a Master Strength Coach. He now serves as basketball game manager in addition to his duties as strength and conditioning coach.
“I used to rig (set up her straps for aerial practice) in the minidome,” Morrow said. “My dad’s office is in the minidome and they had steel beams so it was really easy to put a set without a pole. I didn’t have long fabric, so I used about an 18-foot space at that point.”
When Morrow wasn’t rigging in the minidome, she was working on her degree in fine arts, which she completed in 2008. Halfway through her degree, she met some belly dancers from Asheville who let her perform at a few gigs and taught her about the mysterious world of aerial performing arts. She fell in love with the sport but found it hard to find people to train with in Johnson City.
Because of that, she traveled to New York City after being awarded an apprenticeship at the now New York Circus Arts Academy. After graduation, she moved to join Pendulum Dance Theatre in Portland, Ore. where she trained with world-renowned Mongolian contortionist Tsengelmaa Byambadorj. She’s performed at Cirque Du Soleil, Intel and the Portland Art Museum. Morrow has since relocated to Kansas City to perform and teach with Quixotic Fusion.
Morrow said she’s extremely grateful for the opportunities she received during her time at ETSU. Still, she hopes teaching classes like the one last Wednesday night will spread the word about the world of aerial performance and get more local people involved. She also said she’s excited about ETSU’s decision to start work on its new fine and performing arts center.
“I wanted to do rhythmic gymnastics, but it wasn’t around here as a kid,” Morrow said. “I’m really excited that ETSU has expanded and that people here are becoming aware because at the time, I couldn’t find anybody to do stuff with me. I’d go to Asheville. And I was pretty new at it too and the more I learn the more I need to learn.”
The beginner’s class helped participants learn flexibility and alignment on straps and how that all applies to aerial movements.
“I think the more people try it, the more people appreciate it,” Morrow said. “I know it looks easy, but ‘ha.’ It’s definitely not.”
To sign up for classes or learn more about aerial skills and other circus arts, visit jccircusarts.com or on Facebook at Facebook.com/jccircusarts or call (423) 782-6479.