The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the creative arts massively, with performances being postponed and classes being canceled. Thankfully, dance companies throughout D.C. are doing what they can to ensure dancing continues. Already, we are seeing amazing performances streamed online, new projects being created for Zoom and Instagram Live, and dance classes held virtually for students of all ages.
Christopher K. Morgan, executive artistic director of Dance Place, which normally offers live performances every weekend and classes for adults and kids, says it has put up virtual classes throughout the week.
“We also started a virtual presentation series, which is a combination of conversations with artists and video screenings of excerpts of their work,” Morgan says. “Some of the work that was intended to be presented in our theater, and some giving context to the artist’s full body of work.”
The company is using Facebook for the streams, which he notes is super accessible to the entire dance community.
“We wanted to stay as connected to our community as we could during this time,” he continues. “We’ve been seeing within the field of dance, really important artists and institutions doing screenings of full-length works that are beautifully lit with multi-camera shoots, and while some of our artists in our series do have access to that type of documentation of their work, we wanted to create a virtual presentation series that highlighted what we do: engaging in conversation and sharing art.”
“We are very fortunate that DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities has already confirmed funding for the work, and that they are being very flexible with us on any shifts we need to make for the project,” she says. “The co-presenter of the work, CityDance – where I am resident artist – is also supporting us as we navigate the pandemic.”
While Ewing still hasn’t written off the plan for a live performance, the company is building the work knowing it may need to move the performance to a virtual setting.
“My collaborator, Dylan Uremovich, and I work with a lot of technology – motion tracking and interactive projections – for the company’s dance performances, and so imagining how we could utilize technology to potentially present the work through a virtual platform is sparking many creative ideas,” she explains. “If we move our August performance to an online presentation, that will require cameras, projectors, lights, etc. But for now, it’s been an easy transition.”
Ewing continues to teach for CityDance, which has moved all of its classes (165 each week) to various online platforms.
“It’s exciting to see how we can leverage these virtual platforms for dance classes. So far, I have been able to do everything with just my laptop and a few apps, and some minor adjustments to the furniture in my bedroom. Dancers have been able to connect to classes with their laptop or iPhone.”
Obviously, virtual dance is not ideal, as a big part of the medium comes from connection and working in unison with other dancers. But with no other options, dancers are making it work the best they can.
“As dancers and teachers, we are used to being able to touch and see and be with each other,” Ewing adds. “That shared energy is often the place our creativity and ideas are born from, so not having that is hard. But artists and dancers are agile, and we will continue to find new ways to serve our community with classes and performances. Hopefully, this provides some respite for our fellow citizens as they stay home, and for those on the frontline of this pandemic who work in the healthcare sector and other essential services.”
Momentum Dance Theatre has also moved most of its classes online via Zoom. It offers two adult ballet and one adult classical jazz class per week, with a Brazilian dance class coming soon.
“All classes are live, which gives us the chance to check in and keep ourselves socially connected,” says Roberta Rothstein, Momentum’s artistic director.
To connect, Rothstein uses her Surface Pro and at the advice of a parent, hooks it to a larger 32-inch screen through an HDMI cable so she can better see her students dancing while she dances along. Naturally, there are challenges. In addition to finding enough room to dance in one’s home, audio and visual lags make it hard for everyone to dance together.
“As a dancer/choreographer whose strength is musicality and attention to rhythm, I have to accept that all students hear the music slightly later than I do, and they don’t all hear it at exactly the same time,” Rothstein says. “Also, everyone’s signal is different. I can see some students clearly, others are hazier, still others have an unstable signal. Some have to get back into Zoom three or four times during a class or their screen freezes. Sometimes, I get the unstable audio signal and we all have to end Zoom and restart it.”
Mary Chase, executive director of Joy of Motion Dance Center, says because of security concerns, she is not offering virtual classes. Instead, she has instructors create video content that students can watch from home and practice along with.
“In just three weeks, we were able to put together 508 videos for our prepaid tuition students, which is about $110,000 worth of revenue for us,” she says. “We are doing livestream content through our website, but the beauty and curse of being such a large organization is that if we had tried to do Zoom instead of the prerecorded classes, we’d have over 200 classes a week and only 10 individuals monitoring that.”
FOR THE LITTLE ONES
Studio One Dance offers custom dance instruction for young students ages two to eight. When the stay-at-home order came in, the company’s director, Rebecca Ward, quickly pivoted to virtual teaching.
“It definitely took a little while to get into a new routine, but I am so grateful that we have an alternative way to teach our students,” Ward says. “We are hosting our regular schedule of classes virtually through Zoom and have also been going live on Instagram sharing ideas for DIY dance crafts, new steps for dancers to practice and ballet story time.”
She notes trying to stay on top of the ever-changing privacy suggestions has been a daily exercise, and keeping students engaged during class is an ongoing challenge.
“Virtual learning is really tricky for some children. They crave the social interaction that regular classes provide them. We’re giving 150 percent in our lessons to make virtual learning exciting.”
Momentum also has its children’s classes online. When the stay-at-home order was announced, the dance company was preparing for its annual spring performance of ‘ALICE: Why A Girl Needs a Wonderland and What Happens There.’ In response to the situation, one of the student’s parents assisted in setting up virtual classes on Google Classroom.”
“We are able to send weekly reminders, assign homework and use our YouTube Channel as a repository for the choreography already done and videoed pre-shutdown,” Rothstein says. “This has allowed us to stay focused and retain most of our students.”
The one thing that everyone in the dance community agrees on is that they are glad so many dancers are continuing to dance during this time. But still, it’s been tough, and everyone feels for those not getting to have their moment.
“It’s hard for so many dancers and their continued training and professional careers, but I have to say my heart breaks a bit for high school seniors,” Ward says. “For many of them, this may have been their last year dancing for a while, or for good. The studio you grow up dancing at is such a special place, and I feel for them missing these last moments.”
Ewing admits initially it was scary, but she’s glad the virtual shift seems to be working.
“We work in environments where we are near our colleagues, and we present our works in spaces with audience members sitting closely together,” she says. “We all understand the necessity of the stay-at-home mandates and want to do everything we can to keep our communities safe and healthy, but it is still scary to see a lot of peers lose income and work stability.”
She adds that witnessing how quickly artists and arts organizations have moved to make dance classes and performances accessible online is very inspiring.
“Art can’t cure Covid-19, but it makes the shift to social distancing and staying home easier. Whether it be reading, watching movies or streaming performances, we are all being reminded just how essential the arts are to our everyday life.”
Dance Place: www.danceplace.org // @danceplacedc
Joy of Motion: www.joyofmotion.org // @joyofmotiondancecenter
Momentum Dance Theatre: www.momentumdancetheatre.com // @momentumdancedc
S.J. Ewing & Dancers: www.sjewing.com // @sjewingdc
Studio One Dance: www.studioone-dance.com // @studioonedance_dc
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