A ballet teacher built a dance studio in her backyard, where dancers take lessons while wearing masks and maintaining distance from each other. (Photo courtesy of Nadia Chung)
La Cañada High School

Column: How COVID-19 changed dance for me

Broadway: Closed until 2021. The seasons of “Means Girls”, “Beetlejuice”, “Waitress”, and other popular musicals cut short or canceled.

The New York City Ballet: performances canceled until 2021 — the first time the nutcracker has been called off since 1954.

Schools nationwide: moved onto Zoom, and the classrooms full of students pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts has been replaced with screens full of muted rectangles.

I remember the crushing feeling of shock.

During early spring, my Instagram feed was flooded with endless posts of all my favorite artists, programs, and organizations announcing that things would be changing. And, I immediately observed the pervasiveness of that change, first hand, as I started receiving emails informing me that the school musical I was supposed to perform in and the intensive summer training program I was planning to attend would be canceled. Suddenly, COVID-19 had affected a facet of my life that I was so used to viewing as it’s own world: dance.

“Going to dance” could no longer mean training daily, with the other girls in my division, at our local dance studio. The volatility of the pandemic quickly redefined this term for me.

In the early months, I called into my Zoom classes from my bedroom or living room, switching between using my window sill or piano as a ballet barre. Trying to perform each step with “technical correctness” was vastly more challenging without the dance studio’s walls that were fully covered in mirrors. I, like most dancers, was accustomed to checking my placement in a position or my execution of a movement in those mirrors. Overall though, for the beginnings of class, where we stayed at the “barre,” this setup worked surprisingly well.

However, the same was not true for the end of class combinations that I tried to participate in. Pre-pandemic, this meant dancing in the center of the studio or going across the studio from corner to corner. But, restaged to fit the room I was dancing in, this meant hitting the chandelier with my foot when I did penchés and slipping out of chaînés because of the lack of traction between my pointe shoes and the hardwood.

(Photo courtesy of Nadia Chung)

Eventually, when I began to realize that Zoom ballet was going to be an inescapable reality for much longer than I was expecting, I enlisted my brother’s help and we turned our basement into a dance space.

Even now, online classes continue to be my main mode of “going to dance.”

Recently, however, my teacher built a dance studio in her backyard, where I have been taking private and semi-private lessons (while wearing masks and maintaining our distance from each other) in addition to my virtual classes. It has been beyond wonderful to dance outdoors and with nature as a view instead of my laptop on a chair.

For me, “going to dance” is quickly re-becoming more than just clicking on a link. And, while even the near future is unclear right now, I am hopeful that the dance world will emerge all the more connected, inspired, and strong, out of this pandemic.