Staying strong, even in limbo: Meet scientist and aerial artist Jodi Simeon

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For an hour and a half every week, a group of seven women gather for silks practice at Inspired Aerial Arts in Lawrence.

One of these athletes is 26-year-old Jodi Simeon, whom Inspired owner and instructor DeAnna Mylander describes as “a straight up ray of sunshine.” 

The group warms up by jogging around the gym and repping pull-ups with ease; every once in a while, someone bursts out laughing from one of Simeon’s comments.

When everyone’s blood is flowing, they stretch in a circle and go over the evening’s itinerary. 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times

Next, they start casually practicing heart-stopping stunts that make audiences gasp in fear, then cheer in raptured awe. 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Aerial artists Melissa Gabel, Amy Thompson and Jodi Simeon climb up 19-foot-tall silks while instructor and owner DeAnna Mylander watches. Chelsea Paxson warms up on the pull-up bar in the back of the room.

“I think it was the coolness of the sport [that drew me in],” says Simeon, who started taking silks classes in October 2021 and also attends a core class and takes a dance class at the Lawrence Arts Center each week. 

“It’s not something that you learn or see a lot, unless you’re into Cirque du Soleil or performing in the circus or something,” she says.

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Sara Crawley, DeAnna Mylander and Amy Thompson watch Melissa Gabel and Jodi Simeon as they warm up on the silks.

Simeon grew up in Dominica, a small island in the Caribbean. She graduated with a master’s degree in molecular biology from the University of Arkansas in 2021, then moved to Lawrence to begin working as a scientist at Deciphera Pharmaceuticals. 

Most of her family still lives in Dominica, and Simeon visits them every year. She says she’s comfortable and happy in Lawrence. But because international students are only given three years to work in the United States after graduation, Simeon’s time in Lawrence may be coming to an end.

Unless her name is selected from the lottery system that would allow her to apply for a work visa, Simeon will have to return to Dominica next year. 

Simeon won’t know whether she has to move until March of next year. If she’s not selected to apply for a visa, she’ll have to leave the country within 90 days. 

Even though Simeon isn’t sure where she’ll be living a little more than a year from now, Mylander says that doesn’t stop her from completely submerging herself into everything she does. 

“She just jumps in, fully [committed],” Mylander says. “Anything I have her try, she does with a smile.”

Simeon hopes to remain in Lawrence for a few more years, but she says she’s not worried about the future. This isn’t surprising — fear doesn’t seem to be in her repertoire. 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times

At 16, Simeon earned her black belt in don jitsu ryu.

She received two associate degrees — one in chemistry, and one in biology — from Dominica State College before moving to the U.S. in 2015 to pursue her studies at the University of Arkansas.

According to a 2021 profile by IndexMundi, people of African descent make up 84.4% of Dominica’s population. At the University of Arkansas, 74.4% of the college’s population is white, and Black students make up only 4.4% of the 27,300 students


“It was definitely different … I always try to go home at least every year during Christmas,” Simeon says. “I would land in the airport, and as soon as I stepped down, all I saw was Black people. And then I would come back [to school] after just a three or four hour flight, and it’s like, whoa — I don’t see many Black people.” 

Simeon says she developed impostor syndrome while she was working toward her master’s degree. She was one of only two Black women in the program. 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times

“Women in science is a minority,” Simeon says. “Women of color in science is even more so.”

Mylander, who described Simeon as fearless both within and outside of the studio’s walls, says she and the rest of Inspired’s crew hope Simeon can stay in Lawrence — but they know that she’ll “keep rocking it” no matter where she ends up. 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Sara Crawley laughs as Simeon simultaneously swings and cracks jokes.
“She always makes up different unique names for moves that already have names,” Mylander says. “Usually they’re in line with how that move makes your body feel … if it causes a great amount of pain, it’s named after that.”

“I think I’m really in a place right now where my life is in limbo,” Simeon says. “But honestly, I’m not that scared or nervous. And I don’t know if that means I’m crazy … but I think I’ll be fine, no matter what happens.” 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times

To learn more about Inspired Aerial Arts or sign up for a class, visit this link. Monthly “Try It Nights” allow first-time students to try aerial arts for $10.

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Chloe Anderson (she/her) contributed to The Lawrence Times from August 2022 through May 2023. She is also published in Climbing magazine, Kansas Reflector and Sharp End Publishing. As a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, Chloe plans to continue her career in photography, rock climbing and writing somewhere out West.

You can view her portfolio, articles and commissioned work here. Check out more of her work for the Times here.

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