We have survived a year unlike any other.
We were knocked down and we are still standing.
We have remained determined and flexible as only dancers are.
Twelve months have gone by…So, where exactly are we today?
At this point, many studios and university programs have transitioned from fully-virtual to hybrid—offering a blend of online and in-studio training. For the dance world that is still primarily virtual, we’ve adapted to this (now not-so) new platform by understanding the benefits and limitations of Zoom, continuing to master the art of dance videography, and sharing our work (from fully-produced pieces of choreography to raw clips from today’s theater jazz class) on social media. We have learned to inspire and make connections in new ways.
Perhaps most significantly, we have realized the parts of our world that we had previously taken for granted…
- standing at the ballet barre at Steps on Broadway and looking out on the hustle and bustle of the Upper West Side,
- side-stepping into your house seat of a packed New York City Center just as the orchestra strikes up and the lights dim down,
- bounding across the floor in a big, bright top-floor Ailey studio, slowing and syncing your breath with your peers at the start of rehearsal warm-up, hearing the exact moment the music ends and complete silence bursts into applause at the end of Act II,
- and experiencing the physical support and connection of our unique art form through partnering, getting a hands-on correction from your teacher that makes it just ‘click,’ and hugging an old friend in the studio hallway.
A year ago, we didn’t think twice. Now, we miss these things more than words can express.
But it finally feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel—even if we can’t quite see it yet.
“I am gently encouraging myself and others to use this time to press into ‘the process’ in a healthy way. We have been told over and over again to learn from and enjoy ‘the process.’ The beauty of this industry pause is the fact that we are able to explore and discover our process. In the past, ‘the process’ has felt like ‘get ready for rejection, prepare for the downs, you’ll hear 99 ‘no’s’ before a ‘maybe,’ slap a smile on that face,’ etc…
While those are elements of the artist’s process, how can we adjust our lens using this downtime to healthily restore our appreciation for all aspects of the business and personal growth? How can we know and own our worth? How can we better our self-talk? How can we understand that it is okay to be vulnerable and not hide behind a filter? How can we balance our reliance on others’ opinions and just create and explore art simply because we love it? If we are able to strip away the layers, which we have been somewhat forced to do this past year, we can restore our process and therefore our worth, attitudes, perspectives and overall passion for what we choose to do, be it inside or outside of the business.”
NYC-based performer, creative, and educator
“We are experiencing 3 pandemics: the global health crisis, George Floyd’s death and the uprooting of systemic racism, and the political division that has created an undercurrent of disunity, uncertainty, and divide amongst American families and communities. In this next year, we will see how this has manifested in artists’ work and in who we grow into as individuals.”
Donna Walker Kuhne
Vice President of Community Engagement at New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Owner of Walker International Communications Group, Inc., Former Director of Marketing and Audience Development at The Public Theater, Former Director of Marketing at Dance Theatre of Harlem
“Teaching on Zoom has been challenging in a way that requires me to be very dynamic with my language ant tone. A movement taught in a 2-dimensional world needs specific description to be texturized in the 3-dimensional world. Taking dance class online has forced both teachers and students to use a different side of our brains. My university is now hybrid, which is wonderful and still complicated since half the class is learning online while the other half is together (masked) in a bigger studio.
What has been incredible in this process is using the virtual platform to welcome guest teachers in class to tell their stories of their careers and connect to the students. I see the access that technology has afforded us as being something that will continue once we are well past COVID.
It will be interesting to see the art that comes out of this time of deep separation and introspection. I feel I’ve gone deeper in defining my ‘why.’ I have gone deeper with my own body, self-maintenance and strength. I feel a renewed sense of peace knowing I am exactly where I need to be and feel responsibility to continue to teach, inspire, and share. Dancing has saved me from becoming disconnected. Dancing has moved me through pain. Dancing keeps me moving forward.”
Visiting Professor of Musical Theatre Dance at Indiana University, Choreographer, Broadway Veteran
“Moving classes online has been a huge undertaking along with the challenge of acceptance by our cliental. Professional dancers are suffering horribly from lack of work and motivation to stay on top of their craft, taking regular classes as their discipline demands. Many teachers didn’t feel comfortable with the virtual format from the start but eventually came on board. And over the past year, we have lost dear members of our Steps family including one of our founders, Carol Paumgarten. It’s really hard to take a virtual class when you are used to that personal, in-studio energy and experience of being in the halls at Steps on Broadway.
I never expected having to create a virtual side to this company and, initially, I was not drawn to the idea of technology as part of this business. But as soon as I stepped into building a structure, I realized the tremendous opportunity to reach a larger audience and share our passion beyond our studio walls. The people who have become successful online teachers have expanded their toolkit and found new ways of communicating and engaging with students. The fact that we are able to offer classes globally is exciting.
There is hope that we’re going to be revitalized by this. All the time we’ve had – the introspection – is causing us to look inwardly and outwardly about what changes we can administer to make things better than they were. It’s a chance to take a deep look and reshape for a new time. That’s not to say that Steps on Broadway was not great for the past 40 years, but this is a real transition in so many ways. When we reopen, it will be different. I’m not sure what shape it will take, but we see it as an opportunity.”
Co-Artistic Managing Director of Steps on Broadway, Artistic Director of the Steps Beyond Foundation
It’s really stunning to see how our government will rally to get sports arenas back in action but there seems to be no regard for performing arts, a community that has kept most people sane during this entire journey. It feels so disrespectful. I find myself still loving what I do immensely, and I just wish that arts and culture were revered in the way that sports are in America I think there’s a place for everyone at the table and right now it’s hard not to feel forgotten.”
New York City Ballet soloist, co-founder of Final Bow for Yellowface
“One of the silver linings of this challenging time has been teaching my livestream classes from the NYC studios of Broadway Dance Center and STEPS. Like many, every show, job, workshop, or project I had lined up disappeared or went on indefinite pause almost overnight when the pandemic hit. So, these weekly classes have been an incredible way for me to personally create and teach my choreography in detail and reconnect with the dance community. My classes have become a source of joy for me-and watching incredible dancers not just return to class after being ‘still’ for many months but also find their joy in dance again has been monumental for me.
Recently, I have been discussing ‘process’ in my classes. The fact that dance and especially choreography really only exist publicly right now on film or Zoom means that there is a camera pointed at you all the time. It changes the energy in the room and starts to feel permanent and final. That, along with a social media culture that values the false idea of perfection, is not a healthy mix when coupled with trying to take class on Zoom in your tiny NYC apt or in a mask!
I am encouraging everyone to ‘reclaim the process!’ The journey of dance and choreography is a long, and usually private and sheltered, evolution. Class especially, should be a safe place to work the discipline of technique and to experiment with style, musicality and shapes. Pushing your own edge requires experiments that are necessary but not always successful. To do the work of many hours of repetition arriving at the place where you can let it all go and perform is integral to our art form. However, the need to stay visible and feeling forced to film a class combination and then share it publicly cuts off the process and allows judgment on an unfinished evolution. I am actively encouraging the conversation around sharing class choreography videos that aren’t ‘perfect’—that we as a community will agree that the process can continue and that we will support each other sharing the imperfect process of continuing to dance during this time.
I am trying to advocate to all that this time is literally survival for most of us. That we are trying to hold on with our fingernails until we can fully work and express our talents again. If I can be a part of having a clear sense of purpose and also ownership of the process and the way it is perceived, then I have achieved one of my most important goals. I have also met some incredible videographers that have become creative partners to me, capturing choreography and keeping it alive. I am able to quickly film class combinations with my demonstrators in the 10 minutes after class and preserve the work we have done. Through their lens, they are helping add an educated and important eye that adds another layer to the video record. I am grateful for these artists continuing to evolve along with us, and that we all are trying to find a balance between process and performance during COVID.”
Choreographer, director, and educator
“Artists must always be in touch with the past, present, and future. As much as we have believed we could see into the future, the truth is we create the future and simultaneously we are not in control of it. In this time of raucous evolution, open your mind to possibility, explore, and let go of what you can’t control.”
Founder/Artistic Director of The Verdon Fosse Legacy