Dani Duncan arrived in Whistler three years ago with a suitcase half-filled with an eight-metre-long silk and little idea of what exactly she was getting into.
"I wanted to come work a ski season," she said. "I don't even know where I heard of Whistler, but I just got a visa and booked a one-way ticket to Vancouver. I didn't even research Whistler. I knew nothing about it."
What happened next is a standard Whistler story: the Irish citizen planned to stay for one winter, fell in love with mountain biking and decided to stick around. Only, there's a twist: in between, Duncan has built a burgeoning business — called Treeline Aerial —teaching aerial silks to Sea to Sky residents.
"When I first got here, (Whistler) didn't have silks, so my silk sat under my bed in a suitcase for nine months," she said.
Duncan first fell into the performance art — which includes climbing up a silk that's suspended from the ceiling and performing tricks on it in the air, à la Cirque du Soleil — while she was teaching at a summer camp in Pennsylvania.
"I was supposed to go there and be a dance instructor," she said. "But when I got there they said, 'we don't have enough people to work on the flying trapeze. We want you to work there instead.' I had no circus experience, but it kind of all fell into place."
Once you dip your toe into the world of circus, you tend to get sucked in, she added. "One of the girls there brought her silk out one day and we hung it from the A-frame and I tried it and I loved it," she said.
When she returned home to Ireland that fall, she and a friend bought silks equipment together, found a place to train (the biggest requirement is ceilings high enough to suspend the silk) and, soon after, found themselves teaching a small class.
"We did that for two years," she said. "There was no Instagram. On Instagram now it's flooded with stuff. Back then it was about who you knew, who you trained with and tricks you had learned different places."
After moving to Whistler and realizing she wanted to stay for more than a season, Duncan began a hunt for a location to hang her silk — which led her to the Athletes' Centre in Cheakamus where the Whistler Gymnastics Club is housed. "I went down and took a look. They had circus equipment, but no one to teach a program," Duncan said. "It all started from there."
The first Whistler class in September 2015 was small, just five or six students. Some of those students are still taking classes and have advanced dramatically. "It's just kind of evolved," Duncan said. "People in the Sea to Sky are open to trying alternative forms of exercise — and they're not afraid of something more challenging. It's a cool alternative, not just putting on your gym gear and going to the gym."
Over the last two-and-a-half years, that one class has grown into three levels in Whistler, as well as a (sold-out) class for kids and another for high-school students. She also recently started offering classes in Squamish, alongside private lessons and hosting open sessions for practice.
Members of those classes will have the chance to perform for the community at Treeline Aerial's second annual showcase on Sunday, Feb. 18, starting at 7:30 p.m.
"I love, love, love teaching," said Duncan, who has a law degree, but now uses her law books as yoga blocks. "It's so rewarding and I really enjoy all the feedback from the classes and watching the progression... That's what got me there in the first place: loving silks and performing and wanting to share it with other people."
Entry to the showcase is at the door with a suggested donation of $5. For more, visit Treeline Aerial on Facebook.
(Note: The journalist who wrote this story has taken classes at Treeline Aerial.)