Facing Despair as We Navigate the Pandemic

For my entire dancing life I have always maintained the daily practice of taking class. Even as I get ever closer to 60 years old, the need for daily class (whenever possible) has stayed with me. I have already written extensively on why I am still studying (https://classicalballetandallthatjazz.com/2018/01/04/why-i-still-take-class-2/) and that is not the purpose of this article. But suffice it to say that the ritual of walking into the studio, placing my left hand on the barre and doing the work, is at the very core of who I am. I have even made a practice of getting to the studio early (when I could have access to an empty room) and giving myself class. I have always found something calming and comforting in being in that empty studio early in the morning; the quiet, the peacefulness, the opportunity to work carefully and methodically and at my own pace. Now we are faced with a global pandemic and we are living in a new world. Dance studios have been closed down and we have been asked to shelter at home. It has been nearly four months since the last time I could take a ballet class, and at least in New York City, there is no end in sight to this shut down. 

Artists being who we are, and the diligent, methodical discipline of dancers being what it is, we simply adapted our lives and our work to the internet. My classes transferred to Zoom, I gave myself my daily class in an empty studio, and I told myself that everything was alright. And for a while, everything WAS alright. I taught my classes on Zoom, and the students seemed to be thriving. I arrived early to the empty studio from which I was broadcasting my classes, and I gave myself class. I tried, best as I could, to keep everything as normal as possible. But the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months and this existence turned into anything but normal. 

Students, especially the young children, were loosing interest in classes on Zoom. I and my colleagues were constantly brainstorming for new ideas to keep them engaged, but the students came to realize, just as we had, that it just will never replace teaching in the studio. The professionals who take my open classes remained engaged, still working to the best of their abilities, as did many of the adult amateurs (in the best sense of the word) who are my students. They were, like me, trying to hold on to a sense of normalcy that was rapidly slipping away.

Now, four months later, as I enter that empty studio in the early morning, the quiet peacefulness that I once felt has been replaced with despair. That windowless room with the harsh fluorescent lighting that once welcomed me to work quietly and slowly, by myself, is now sardonically glaring at me; daring me to find the comfort that I once found there. The ritual of class, the music, the barre and the mirror, now represented loss and desperation. And the doing of the work that I once loved, that I sacrificed everything to be able to do, was steadily becoming an insurmountable challenge.

But I have never been one to shy away from a challenge.

So every day I will return to that empty studio. Every day I will face the flickering computer screen and try to reach my students in their little boxes on Zoom. Every day I will strive to continue to find the love and passion that I had for my work. There is a war being fought. Patients are fighting this pandemic. Doctors are fighting this pandemic. Politicians are fighting this pandemic. And I am fighting this pandemic; fighting to hold onto the joy in my work. Just as I strove for years to perfect a line, to hone a technique, to shade a nuance and make something beautiful, I will strive to fight this virus and keep it from robbing me of the one thing that has always brought meaning to my life: the joy in my work. So as doctors and nurses are fighting to keep hearts beating, I am fighting to keep hearts loving; loving this work that we do. But I’m just not exactly sure how.

5 thoughts on “Facing Despair as We Navigate the Pandemic

  1. I’ve definitely clocked up more time in class, and with teachers I wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to work with. I’ve hit double turns on my damn carpet. I’ve got used to taking class in front of my girlfriend, and she has begun to ignore it completely except when I face the “barre” away from her. 🙂

    I was finally included in my class’s secret facebook group.

    On the other hand I suspect I am negative-training in some ways – any arabesque movement feels risky, as do promenades or attitude turns, and I think I am developing inhibitions there, while I kick happily devant and a la seconde. I can’t wait to be back..

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  2. Beautifully written. I am 54 and have been dancing for 52 of those years in a studio, 29 as a studio owner. I felt like you were writing my story and as I read each sentence the tears began to flow. The only difference is the ending. I stopped teaching via Zoom on May 12. It’s now been 2 months and I’ve only danced briefly here or there via an online or self taught “class” throughout that time. Each day I wake up depressed and deflated feeling like a piece of me is missing and I don’t know what to do. I’ve never felt this lost. And to explain this to someone who doesn’t know the passion of dance is difficult. I try to shake it off each morning and I am able to find a gratefulness that I’m still here on this wonderful earth but I can’t seem to find the motivation to dance again as it is a painful reminder of what we are going through and all that I must figure out to forge ahead for fall classes. Like you said, now my dance space mocks me. Thank you for sharing this. It helps to know I’m not alone in some of these feelings. Now I need to find that motivation to move again. Small steps. Maybe force myself each morning to do something even if just for a few moments. I’m usually the motivator so why can I not motivate myself?? But I digress. Your words were poetry to my ears and I thank you again for sharing. Take care and keep on dancing!! To all of us!!

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    • Thank you for sharing your experience. It is important to know that we are not alone. I am down to three regular zoom classes per week plus a few scattered “guest teaching” engagements. Two of those three classes are on the same day so I’m technically working in dance two days a week. I am forcing myself to dance in the studio at least five days a week for at least 90 minutes a day. I had a very different path in that I was a young adult beginner. I also didn’t dance at all from age 34-43. Getting back into shape at 43 was unbelievably difficult. I’m terrified that if I let myself get out of shape at 59, then I will be done. And I have no intention of being done. It’s the fear of my career coming to an end that gets me to that studio every day. So however, and whatever we do now; this WILL one day come to an end…and I will be ready😉

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