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On the far left and on the far right are women in harnesses dangling from ropes, trying to scale a wall. Each is assisted by a teacher all in black.

Don’t be alarmed — it’s a performance. Oakland’s Bandaloop takes dance to new heights.

on November 14, 2023

Dangling from the sheer face of San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid 800 feet  above rubbernecking pedestrians, three orange-clad figures swayed gracefully on Monday morning in a gravity-defying dance. 

This was not a stunt by daredevils. It was the latest public performance by Bandaloop, the expert Oakland dance troupe some might remember for their dance high on the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan in 2018.  

Bandaloop’s signature technique, which they call  “vertical dancing,” combines features of rock climbing and dancing. Performers leap up, down and sideways in ballet-like moves, all while suspended by cables, sometimes hundreds of feet in the air. Bandaloop dancers have been performing this way since 1991, usually on the sides of buildings, but also on rock formations and even UNESCO heritage sites. Their performances are always free. 

The Transamerica Pyramid performance was not announced to the public beforehand, leading to some confusion among observers. Scores of diplomats in the city for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference has brought heavy security in the financial district. Shortly after noon, the San Francisco Police Department reassured the public with a tweet saying the dancers are “part of a PERMITTED PERFORMANCE. Don’t be alarmed. Enjoy the show!” 

Outside a blue building with lots of windows is a blue sign with the words: Bandaloop Open House. Try Bandalooping! Free 20 min lessons 10 am-1pm
West Oakland Bandaloop studios (Royvi Hernandez)

The San Francisco performance capped a big weekend for the dance troupe. On Sunday, Bandaloop held an open house to celebrate the opening of its new expanded studio in West Oakland, which features a 32-foot high climbing wall where they will perform and give dance lessons. 

Bandaloop Artistic Director Melecio Estrella, a dancer who started in the company in 2002, said dancers use rock climbing technology to make any vertical surface their dance floor.

“It might be a windowsill, a ledge to jump onto or it might be a signage that we have to avoid: all of those particularities of each building or site create opportunities for creativity,” Estrella said. 

Samuel Melecio-Zambrano, a core dancer in the group who joined in 2021, said, “I want the audience to get a sense of openness from the dance. By nature of the work because the audience is looking up and out, it offers a view of the world around us.” 

Natalie Moller came to the open house to try vertical dancing. “I was in control with how fast and slow I wanted to go,” Moller said. “The first thing the teacher made me do is go upside down to build trust with the equipment and that made a big difference.” 

Moller’s friend Claudine Offer wanted to experience the same feeling as the dancers after seeing them perform a while ago.

“Being suspended in a different orientation allows you to have this freedom to move and experience the wall or bouncing differently than on the floor,” Offer said. 

Jeffrey Samson, who had never heard about Bandaloop and saw the studio walking by from the Farmers Market, shared a similar sentiment.

“Being levitated felt transformative. You can just hang and not touch the wall but when you interact with the wall you’re pushing off it and reabsorbing back into it, playing with pressures and how much contact you have with the wall,” Samson said.

(Top Photo: Bandaloop dancers Krystal Harfert and Becca Dean teach vertical dance, by Royvi Hernandez)

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