When I was younger, I remember dreaming about what the future would look like. I would watch Zenon: Girl of the 21stCentury or see a re-run of The Jetsons and start to ponder what the future would hold. At the time, 2020 seemed light-years away and with every new Mayan calendar that was discovered, no part of little me was entirely certain that we would get there. What I did have my eyes set on was the technology that seemed to exist years down the road. I had no idea how it would get there or who was going to be making it. At the time, I just couldn’t wait to use it with my friends and have their holograms pop up in my house on a Snow Day. Little did I know that 2020 would be the year that I would be embracing technology more than ever before, even adding it to my resume as I take on the new role of virtual dance teacher, coach, and barre instructor. In fact, I am sure that awkward, glasses-wearing, brace-faced fourth grader would have found that notion completely out-of-this-world – even more so than the futuristic world I would see on the television screen. Yet, here we are.
When things started to take a turn with this current COVID-19 pandemic, the world found itself in an uncertain and certainly uncomfortable time, to say the least. The arts community, dance specifically, found itself in panic mode – along with many others.
Week 1: Studios close for “early Spring Break.” Teacher meetings are set up to discuss plans of action for the upcoming weeks, still unsure of how things will progress and play out. Competitions and conventions cancel one weekend only. Dancers, choreographers, teachers, etc. file for unemployment.
Week 2: Studios are shutting down. Competitions and conventions cancel the remainder of their tours. Companies are cancelling national tours – some even needing to stop operations as a whole, unable to recover financially from the time away. Online classes begin to find themselves in the spotlight – some charging participation fees and some not. College and World Championships are postponed and/or cancelled raising questions and for teams who spend their entire season working towards the 2 minutes on the mat/marley. Dancers, choreographers, teachers, etc. file for unemployment.
Week 3: Broadway goes dark. Recitals are cancelled. Showcases pushed back. Online classes continue. Online instructors ask for “donations” but those participating cannot always give, as they too, are doing the same. Dancers, choreographers, teachers, etc. file for unemployment.
And with each new week that we continue to find ourselves in this uncertain situation, reactions to this pandemic repeat themselves. Now, I am in no way implying that the arts community, or dance community, differs from or is suffering more from the rest of the world in any sort of way. I want to make that incredibly clear. This is shocking us all to our core and challenging us more than we could have ever imagined. However, I break the “dancer experience” of COVID-19 up into these weeks so that you can hear this other side of things that has been overwhelming my heart and soul since the beginning:
Week 1: Live streams start almost immediately – free class, free combos, free feels. Movement chains begin between people across the globe, one even started by a fellow Buckeye BFA. Companies that are still in rehearsals begin to live stream classes and share performances to keep artists engaged.
Week 2: Videos are sent out to students for them to practice on their own. Class streaming services offer special packages for this time to make dance more accessible to all humans, in all situations. Zoom classes are recorded and shared, showing 40+ dancers from different states, different countries, dancing as one. New live streams are started with people just looking to dance with each other – to keep movement alive!
Week 3: Dance teachers from all over the world share tips and tricks for teaching virtually in a Facebook group that, before, tended to hold advertisements and bragging rights – but now functions as what it was designed for: the biggest virtual hug and helping hand that you could ever imagine. Zoom classes become the new normal – instead of kids driving to the dance studio, they join the Zoom meeting and get to sweating right in their bedrooms. Parents join in on the fun – pets too!
Amidst all of the uncertainty around the world, one thing is solid in my mind and in my heart: the dance community is something truly special.
How have I adjusted? Well, I find myself doing a few different things, but definitely doing all things differently than I expected to be doing within this first year of teaching and coaching in new programs and schools. For one program, I film classes and exercises that students can watch at any time of day via their new online portal. These videos are for all classes that I teach in a variety of styles – ballet, tap, jazz, and contemporary, of varying levels. So far, I have planned, filmed, edited, and uploaded 28 videos for my students. I have 8 more to go, due within the next week. For another studio, we have done a mixture of things, some pre-filmed and uploaded classes and now moving into exploring Zoom. For my team and training program at Magnificat, we have embraced Zoom more than ever, with weekly classes for the girls, team meetings, and individual conferences. In fact, I think that I may have created some of my most innovative choreography to date via this new Zoom platform.
I think that now, more than ever, I am grateful for my time in Sullivant Hall at Ohio State. I remember sitting in the Barnett Theatre and listening to students and faculty talk during my initial audition for the program in October 2014. It was my first-ever college dance program audition. Whoa…what a time. I sat there in my purple leotard, hair pulled back into the tightest bun I had ever made, and listened to them tell us about how this program was different, how it would educate us not just as movers, but as creators, artists, and intellectuals. It would teach us more than “5,6,7,8” (a quote I will never forget). I remember hearing about how we would learn to edit our own dance footage to make reels, build our own websites to market ourselves better once out in “the wild.” I recall hearing about new careers that I had never dreamt of: dance filmmakers, collaborations with ACCAD, multi-media performances, stage managers, lighting designers, dance therapists, the list goes on and on! Never did I ever imagine that the time spent learning about these different dimensions of my BFA Degree would benefit me so much during this shock to the system. If it was not for Freshman and Senior Seminar in the Dance Department, I would certainly be lost in the depths of Final Cut Pro right now as I try to move my classes to a virtual platform. If not for my time focusing in Dance Education, and having the opportunity to do so in such incredible detail and emphasis, I would be struggling to design lesson plans that hold the same value as those that I am used to teaching in-studio. More than ever, I sit in my apartment and think to myself: It’s a great day to be a Buckeye.
So while this time away from the people and places I love tends to get me down, and has been trying to my mental health along the way, it has led me to reflecting upon how blessed I am to have people and places that I miss. Not being able to see my students every week has been a struggle, but seeing their smiles via Zoom absolutely lifts my spirits higher than I would have ever thought. I am still not entirely sure how we can feel so together, even when we are so far apart. Maybe it’s magic? Maybe it’s just an illusion? But I know for sure that when I see 30+ dancers moving with me on my computer screen, my heart overflows past the four walls of my apartment “dance studio.”
Furthermore, this time has challenged me to connect with those I love and those I have lost touch with as my schedule became “too busy.” I am so thankful for Zoom happy hours with friends all across the globe. I am ridiculously grateful for our new Zoom schedule at Westside Barre, allowing us to open our studio virtually and invite family and friends from across the nation to strengthen, lengthen, and train with us along the way. (If you haven’t joined my Tuesday or Thursday Barre class yet, get your booty into gear and come be a part of our sweat session! Click the link for more info!). The technology that I imagined as a kid is now bringing us together more than ever and how blessed are we to be experiencing this pandemic during an age that allows us to do just that – to stay together, even when 6+ feet apart.
With this blog being a place that I share my experience, I felt it necessary to include this new state that we find ourselves in. Many have said it and I will say it again: This will be a time that we tell our kids about, a time that exists as an important moment in history. How we choose to handle it and make the most of it will be a part of that story. As I type this post after teaching a “Feel Good Friday” Zoom contemporary class, I still cannot stop smiling, and I am so thankful that during these grey and gloomy times, there are still ways for us to bring some sunshine into our quarantine cabins. Though the rest remains uncertain, I will continue to look forward to teaching virtually every week; spending countless hours filming, editing, and uploading; and growing stronger together as a dance, and arts, community. The work is still worth it, and I still would not trade my job for anything in the world.