Dancers in Isolation Explore and Connect
by Rebekah Rimsay
May 6, 2020
We are performers, we want to be onstage performing choreography we’ve spent hours in the studio honing – our bodies and our art – but since that is impossible, perhaps now is a time of discovery. The world will be different after this pandemic and what I know is every dancer will also be different.
A ballet company is a social environment. We train together and rehearse in large groups. Much of the choreography we perform amounts to a series of complex trust exercises carried out day after day as we synchronize our movements, cultivating personal connection, genuine friendships and an appreciation for team effort. During this time of isolation and in the absence of our daily rehearsals, The National Ballet of Canada is providing a wide range of virtual training opportunities. From a ballet perspective, Zoom classes are led by both our Artistic Staff and fellow dancers who are eager to pitch in and sharpen their teaching skills. These daily classes give dancers the routine and approximate format we are used to, the ability to see each other visually and grant us the luxury of exquisite live music courtesy of our talented pianists – all through the portal of our computers. Additionally, our health and wellness programme which, in ‘normal’ times, provides an interactive focus on injury prevention and rehab, strength building and overall health is also administered virtually. Now, from the proximity of his home, our Company Athletic Therapist Paul Papoutsakis, provides us with dancer specific cross training routines to keep us balanced and strong as well as curating a collection of workout resources for us to access on our own. Our days are very full as we engage in our daily grind, all be it a lonelier and more claustrophobic experience, from our homes.
Beyond our basic maintenance needs, we yearn for inspiration. We are athletes but our bodies are our creative medium and this constraint on space and physical contact creates an anxiety that has motivated many of us to experiment, seek out novel, unusual or just different training opportunities and, most importantly, we are reaching out to our friends. The ballet world is small but dispersed across the globe so connecting with old friends, former classmates and colleagues offers a virtual world tour (of living rooms in far off lands) that is refreshing, supportive and motivating – fostering human connection.
So, we dancers of the National Ballet are pushing our sofas and coffee tables to the walls, rolling up our rugs and rolling out our personal dance linoleum squares, to travel the world for inspiration. We are sampling the plethora of dance knowledge among colleagues, delving into new forms of dance like Gaga (modern dance), Jazz, Latin Standard, Bob Fosse and Hip Hop, improvising in our own homes or vacant outdoor spaces, and experimenting with virtual choreography. Many dancers are also tapping into complementary strength training techniques such as Pilates and Anatomy in Motion led by former National Ballet Soloist Je-an Salas and super hard core HIIT workouts designed by former Soloist Rui Huang. Some days we keep it light and fun with Instagram dance party work outs, Zumba and Just Dance Now challenges. Other dancers are sticking to ballet but ‘going back home’ to take ballet classes with former teachers or ‘travel’ abroad to take virtual classes with international ballet stars, directors of other companies and well-known ballet gurus. Still, others are using this time to go back to basics, revelling in the isolation and tuning into self-knowledge, soothing and recalibrating bodies that crave introspection and meditation.
This is a time of forced reflection, one that will be defined by tragic loss of life, economic hardship and the heroic efforts of health care and essential service workers. As artists, dancers will also be changed by the gravity of this pandemic but as we do our duty to stay isolated, many of us will emerge more connected with friends and more connected with our bodies as we use this time to explore and steep. Dancers will enrich and deepen the collective artistic spectrum in preparation for the day the curtain inevitably rises again.