Montana Miller

Montana Miller

Professional Skydiver/Professor of Popular Culture

November 29, 2012

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Montana Miller's life has taken some interesting twists and turns throughout the years. Starting out as an aerial acrobat in her youth, Montana has traveled the world as a flying trapeze artist, cliff diver, and most recently, a professional skydiver. While she spends a lot of time up in the air, Montana also holds a doctorate in Folklore and works as a professor in Bowling Green State University's Department of Popular Culture. She just published a book, "Playing Dead: Mock Trauma and Folk Drama in Staged High School Drunk Driving Tragedies."

Tell us about your background & past projects.       
I've been an aerial acrobat from an early age, and my professional background includes flying trapeze and other aerial acts in circuses internationally and in the US; professional high diving in theme park shows; competing in the Acapulco cliff diving championships the first year that women were included; and now skydiving--both instructing and competing on an international level. In the midst of all this flying, I managed to continue my education winding up with a doctorate in Folklore, which I never expected to land me a job, let alone my amazing job as a professor in BGSU's world-renowned Department of Popular Culture. I have always tried to use my flying as a way of communicating artistically and meaningfully with the deep longings that other people may feel and relate to. I've designed unique aerial acts (I created a spinning double lira in the shape of a peace sign, after 9/11) and I fly a parachute that I had custom made for me, with the silhouette of a bird on it. I've never felt that I fit into either the academic culture or the performance culture; my zig-zagging life has been deliberately unpredictable, and full of contradictions, but it all kind of makes sense to me.

What current projects are you working on?
As a skydiver, I am working toward becoming a tandem instructor (there aren't many women who succeed at this), and I'm participating in some major big-way formation attempts coming up this year (shooting for the 333-way US record that will be attempted next fall). As an ethnographer (someone who studies and writes about culture from an insider's perspective) I tend to research perceptions of risk and attitudes toward death, particularly among groups that are often stereotyped and misunderstood. That's what led me to study a bizarre phenomenon in American high schools where drunk driving tragedies are elaborately reenacted (with theatrical grieving, mock funerals, etc.) in an attempt to change teenagers' risk-taking ways. Years of observing these events resulted in my just-published book, "Playing Dead: Mock Trauma and Folk Drama in Staged High School Drunk Driving Tragedies."

Tell us who or what gives you inspiration?
Actually, ever since I can remember I think animals have been my inspiration. I always felt tragically born into the wrong species, and strove my whole life to transcend the limitations of the human body. I covet the natural grace, skill, and joy in movement of horses, cats, birds... and certain extraordinary humans that achieve that physical facility. I was first inspired to do aerial flying rings by Dolly Jacobs, a famous circus artist who moved on her equipment with the ease of a cat stretching. Doing my own aerial rings act in the past, and now flying as a skydiver in complicated maneuvers with teammates, I truly feel like I'm in my natural element. This feels like a very sacred gift, and I am inspired to share it with others (this is one of the reasons I hope to get my tandem instructor certification).

Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?
One of my favorites, which I try to instill in my college students, is "All generalizations are false." Get it?

Describe your studio/workspace?
I think my real creative and intellectual work probably happens not in my BGSU office, but on the long rides to altitude in the jump plane. The collective reveries of a planeful of skydivers--with tens of thousands of jumps among us--is a fertile environment for my ideas to percolate. Of course these thoughts are always interrupted when exit altitude approaches.

Toledo’s “best kept secret” is . . .
I guess it WAS the historic Popular Culture House, the birthplace of the academic field of Popular Culture, because the BGSU administration valued it so little that they tore it down with 2 weeks warning this past summer...

What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?
Since I travel all over the country for research and for skydiving events, it's perfect living right in the middle. Flying to anywhere in the country is convenient from Detroit. Sometimes I think I should just have half my paycheck deposited directly to Delta Airlines.

Your favorite natural space in the Toledo area is . . .
I love running on the Maumee Towpath Trail, because deer and rabbits cross right in front of me.

Choose 3 words that best describe your work.
Exploratory, ethnographic, and unfinished...

Tell us something you would like to see happen creatively in the Toledo area.
One of my favorite things to go see is high school drama productions. But I'm always so frustrated that these shows usually run for just one weekend. We have amazing high school theatre around here--why not showcase it better and have longer runs so that more people could enjoy the fruits of the incredible talent and hard work of the high school drama clubs?

Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.
Julie Taymor (theatre, opera and film director) is one of my heroes and I'd give anything to be part of one of her shows. She is a genius and creates magic with her courageous imagination and convictions.

List a CD, book and website you can’t live without.
No one CD, book or website is that important to me, but I would have a very hard time living without my skydiving coach and sweetheart, Mario.

The best gift you’ve ever received was . . .
A few years ago my mom gave me a GPS to help me on my many travels, even though I INSISTED I didn't want one. (I was afraid it would make me lose my sense of direction. ... which it did, but it's also saved me from hours of driving around lost in the middle of the night looking for unfamiliar airports and motels! Mom is always watching out for me.

What would you like your last meal to be?
A whole steamed lobster, fresh from the ocean.


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