Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Crystal Worl – Alaska Native Artist and Aerial Dancer

Crystal Worl. Photo by Dakota Mace
Crystal Worl. Photo by Dakota Mace

Crystal Worl is Tlingit Athabascan from Raven moiety, Sockeye Clan, from the Raven House. She is a child of a Thunderbird and from the Chilkat region in Southeast Alaska. From her mother’s side, Crystal is Deg Hit’an Athabascan from Fairbanks. Raised between Fairbanks and Juneau, she was introduced at a young age to her traditional arts, dance and storytelling. After earning her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in 2013, Crystal began intensively studying aerial dance and circus arts across New Mexico, California and Seattle.

Crystal currently lives in Juneau working as an artist and aerial dancer. She works on art full-time and helps her brother run Trickster and works. Trickster Co is a contemporary Native arts and gift design shop. They commission artists for designs, but the majority of the artwork is done by her and her brother, Rico Worl. Crystal does graphics art for the company. She also makes fine art, and sells that on her own. Crystal has a booth at the Sante Fe Indian Art Market in August. She has upcoming shows in Anchorage and Juneau this year.

Crystal Worl performing an aerial dance. Photo by Terrence Clifford
Crystal Worl performing an aerial dance. Photo by Terrence Clifford

Crystal began her tour performing around Alaska as a professional aerialist. I got a chance to catch up with her in June to find out more about her work as an artist and aerial dancer. I missed an opportunity to watch her perform as an aerial dancer in Nome, and really wanted to find out more about it.

Crystal says, “Aerial dancing keeps me in tune with my body; enables me to better focus on are; it helps me to sit down.” You have to really be in shape and keep up your flexibility, so you have to work hard to keep in shape and practice aerial dancing. Because she works full-time and more on art, she finds it difficult to go to the gym. Training as aerial dancer gives her a great workout.

“Being a full-time artist is not an eight to five job. It’s a 24 hour job. Even when I’m resting, my hands are working. Everything I do goes hand in hand with my heart.” – Crystal Worl

I fell in love with earrings by Crystal Worl. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
I fell in love with earrings by Crystal Worl. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Crystal finds inspiration from traditional Alaska Native living and incorporates them into her work. She and her family pick berries each summer. Crystal uses blueberries to dye her earrings. I have a pair of her earrings. She is also making fish skin hide to incorporate into her artwork. Crystal says, “A lot of my art is about harvesting materials and using them in my artwork.”

Artwork and aerial dancing are a huge commitment and challenge, but Crystal loves what she does for a living. As much time as she spends on her artwork and dancing, she has to dedicate time to marketing herself as a business person, public speaker. Crystal finds herself doing a lot of writing and promotion for herself and her businesses. She recently submitted a grant for a kiln which will allow her to work with glass and all kinds of materials. When she was at Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), she enjoyed working with a kiln.

Earrings with a Tlingit fish design. Photo courtesy of Crystal Worl
Earrings with a Tlingit fish design. Photo courtesy of Crystal Worl

Crystal talked about the process of making art. She loves discussing process with other artists and exchanging knowledge. Every artist has their own way of doing things. Crystal says, “Process is forever evolving. It’s the signature in your work. You are not just buying a piece of artwork, you are buying a part of the artist – it’s a whole history and knowledge – who has put time and research into a part of them.”

Through trial and error, Crystal has found a way to process blueberries to be used as dye. She wonders how her ancestors processed and tanned fish skins. She figures they probably spent years to come up with the process and pass it down to the next generation.

Crystal’s Advice for Aspiring Artists and Aerialists:

  • Just do it! Don’t wait for the right time. The right time will never come. It’s a scary thing to do – to do it and to say it. People think that we have a luxury – working. I’m married to my career as an artist.
  • Everyone can do it. It’s a matter of self-motivation. I have a friend in her seventies, and even she can do it. It’s in your own mentality.

Crystal saw a girl aerial dancing and fell in love with it. She wasn’t strong enough physically or had no idea how to do it, but she decided that it was something she wanted to pursue. Crystal says, “Dancing is my oxygen. I need it to grieve, feel good, and be in tune spiritually and mentally.” When she started, she was only able to do one pull-up and she used to be afraid of heights. Crystal trains by running, stretching and conditioning her body every day.

Because there is no aerial studio in Anchorage and Juneau, Crystal has had to create her own. A 20-30 foot ceiling with a steel beam is needed for aerial dancing performances. Although it is a challenge to find a creative space, Crystal is determined to make the time and pull it together to be able to practice the art of aerial dancing. Her brother told her that she would have to pick art or aerial dancing. Crystal said, “No, I’ll figure out.” Her dream is to have an artist and aerial studio in one.

“As an aerialist, dancer, storyteller, and an artist, I use my hands to create lines and form. I am constantly searching for the links between my aerial dance and my art. When climbing the silks I practice various types of wraps and drops that has parallels to weaving. The silks are the warp and my body the weft, when intertwined my body and the silks create a weaving that unravels.” – Crystal Worl

Crystal performs an aerial dance in the forest. Photo courtesy of Cyrstal Worl
Crystal performs an aerial dance in the forest. Photo courtesy of Crystal Worl

Crystal credits her family for being a huge part of her success. Her parents always encouraged her to do her best. Her siblings have taken a big part in her success and are her best friends. She says, “We help each other a lot because we study Tlingit design.” Rico and Crystal complement each other. She doesn’t have time to learn everything I want to learn. Her earring designs require engraving, which her brother is really good at. She is good at kiln cast work, and she help cast his designs. It’s an exchange of art process and business.

Crystal’s dad and step-mom started a business selling the manufactured products on a large-scale. There are operating in Alaska and selling Alaska Native designs.

Crystal’s mom, Beverly, has always encourage her and allow her to do art all of the time. She says, “She’s always been my biggest fan of my art. She’s also learning to tan fish skin with me – learning culture, work with animals, harvesting and using animals, utilizing the land.” Relating to land and animals influences her on how she does her art.

Learn more about Crystal Worl’s fine art on her website. To see her artwork and aerial dancing, you can request to follow her on Instagram (@crystalworl).

As you can see, Crystal is a talented artist and aerial dancer. It takes a tremendous amount of bravery and smarts to work as a full-time artist and to be an aerial dancer. I admire her determination and tenacity to take on both.