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Each time aerial acrobat Sierra Faulkner performs, she soars high in the sky with the grace of a ballerina and the strength of a warrior. Faulkner often dances along to live music with other artists including Sam Chase and The Crux and performs at local music events such as Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square Music Festival and the New Year’s Eve Rivertown Ball in Petaluma.

“I was definitely not a natural at it. I went to a class and just literally never stopped going. I was addicted to it,” Faulkner said. “It took me three or four months to even climb and get off the ground.”

Though aerial arts didn’t come easy for Faulkner, she continued to push herself and now masters silks, trapeze, aerial hoop and several different apparatuses used for aerial dance. She took classes twice a week for her first year but started rehearsing four to six times a week once she started performing.

Faulkner grew up in Oakland and moved to Santa Rosa at age 9, where she grew up, graduating from Santa Rosa High School. After, she moved to Chicago for a year to pursue college, then transferred to Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon, to complete her bachelor’s in fine arts degree in theater. Faulkner started dancing as a child but didn’t take her first circus class until she turned 19. She saw a flier for a silks class and became fascinated by the thought of learning to dance while hanging on fabric.

When she started, she would get tangled in the fabric and had to push herself to keep trying. “I’d have a scary moment where I’d think ‘Oh my god, I’m stuck up here and I need to get down.’ But really, you learn things in a progressive sequence,” she said. “You don’t learn to go upside down until you have the strength to go upside down or climb to the top of the fabric until you know how to come down.”

Though Faulkner has never fallen while performing or received a serious injury, she has fallen during practice. “It was a nice reminder that what I do is dangerous because sometimes I forget. For me, it’s what I do every day. It’s my life,” she said. “It’s my income, my fun time and my creative outlet.”

Most of her injuries have happened on the floor. She’s fractured her elbow from hyper-extending it while rehearsing and received a chronic shoulder injury from repetitive movement. For Faulkner, learning aerial dance took trusting the skills she learned and trusting herself to go at her own pace. “It’s like riding a bike,” she said. “If you’re scared you’re going to fall the whole time; you won’t go anywhere at all.”

After learning aerial dance and performing for four years, Faulkner decided to start teaching to pass her trade along to others. Her favorite part about teaching is helping others to overcome their fears and showing them that the impossible is possible with enough determination.

“Being a part of the circus and the circus culture has been really exciting for me to be able to inspire others and show them that anything is possible and that the super human is achievable by anyone,” she said.

She taught in Ashland for a year before moving to Santa Rosa to be with her partner, local musician Joshua James Jackson. The pair met at Santa Rosa High School during freshman year. “I asked her out when I was about 14. We dated for six months and then stayed friends for almost a decade,” Jackson said.

He would often stay with Faulkner while his bands or musical projects were on tour to Oregon and the two became romantically involved around two summers ago while Faulkner worked alongside The Crux on a performance piece.

Though Jackson loves seeing Faulkner perform, he does admit that seeing her so high above the ground is worrisome at times. “It’s scary, but I trust her. She knows better than I do what she can handle but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t scary.”

He admires her determination and persistence. “She’s really dedicated and hard-working. She’s the kind of person who has an idea and follows through with it and doesn’t let anything fall through the cracks,” he said.

After the pair got together, Faulkner performed at The Kinetic Carnival, a steampunk- inspired arts festival in Willits, just before officially moving back to Santa Rosa. It was at this festival she met Amanda Grace, with whom she now teaches aerial classes in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. The pair started as Skytopia but now operate under the name Circus Mecca.

“She’s really something. She just hopped right on board,” Grace said. “She ended up performing with all of the bands, not just his [Jackson’s] band.”

Grace loved how friendly and personable Faulkner was, and the two hit it off instantly.

“She’s basically been training and teaching with me since she got to Santa Rosa,” Grace said. “She just naturally fell into being a co-teacher because I needed the support and backup. It’s nice having her as a partner.”

The two teach adults together regularly, and Grace enjoys how encouraging she is with the students. So much so, when Grace received a job offer to teach circus classes at Summerfield Waldorf School in Santa Rosa, she referred Faulkner. “I thought she would be a great match for their students because she’s young and she’s got such a creative spirit,” Grace said.

Faulkner is glad to teach in Sonoma County and feels lucky to teach adults with Grace, pass her passion for the circus down to children and perform when she can.

“I’m all over the place and busy, but I love it,” she said.

Estefany Gonzalez is a freelance writer living in Santa Rosa.

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