This year has pulled the rug out from under us. At the start of lockdown, our current projects were postponed indefinitely. That was scary, but it also appeared temporary. And then, our opportunities started to slip away, too…performance seasons went unannounced, in-person training was put on hold, and auditions trickled off the calendar.
We cannot not acknowledge what has been lost, especially in an art form that is already innately ephemeral.
Performing arts organizations are struggling day by day to get by—and too many have been forced to shut their doors entirely. Performers and creatives have been hard-pressed to work in their own field and pressured to pivot in order to make a living. Many dancers and educators feel paralyzed—either incapable of dancing due to financial or personal circumstances, uninspired in the art form that once brought them so much joy, or are grappling with a cloud of some really terrifying feelings…anger, frustration, anxiety, and despair. All of this is valid. All of this is overwhelming. But, you have made it this far—try to acknowledge that.
We must also recognize what we have learned and yes, gained, over these past twelve months. Virtual dance training—though certainly not ideal—has granted greater access to and flexibility of top dance education. Studios, conventions, and educators can now easily reach audiences far beyond their home studio (i.e. A dancer doesn’t have to visit Broadway Dance Center in New York City to train with BDC’s premier faculty). Teaching over Zoom has challenged and empowered educators to adapt their teaching style and philosophy—articulating movement, corrections, and feedback with new imagery and vocabulary. Students have been pushed to understand their body more intuitively (learning more personal awareness and self-correction techniques rather than relying on hands-on adjustments, wall-to-wall mirrors, and other external cues).
A pause from the “hustle” has granted us the opportunity to engage in critical conversations —
- addressing racism and discrimination in all segments of our industry (dance history, arts administration, casting practices, inclusive dancewear, and more)
- recognizing the value of our artistry (functional, monetary, social, and psychological)
- questioning our support systems (on an interpersonal, broader social, and national government level)
- and wrestling with technology’s role in our performing art form.
This dialogue is long overdue and continuing to hold space for open conversation (and subsequent change) will make our community stronger and more sustainable in the long term.
As much as we want to forget 2020 (and, honestly, the start of 2021), it’s important for us to acknowledge all that has transpired. We want to close our eyes and wake up to “normalcy” – crowding into cattle call audition rooms, planning our seasonal production of The Nutcracker without the blink of an eye, and going through the motions at our daily ballet barre. Though, once the world starts to open back up, a lot of that simply won’t be the same. And maybe—just maybe—some of that’s a good thing.
“The art of ballet and dance in general faces a future that is still unsure and it’s footing is in jeopardy. As students continue to leave the Zoom format out of boredom and the inability to focus, it discourages educators and leaves passion for dance waning.
Dance, in most cases, has turned into a ‘vertical’ form without ‘horizontal’ work being performed due to limits of one’s at-home space. Professional dancers cannot be built in a bedroom and a possible two-year lag before fully-functioning classes in a studio and theatrical performances come back to life is a lifetime when a professional dancer’s career span is so limited to begin with. This time lost for the individual professional is a devastating loss.
This period of dance history will be noted as a time when some performing arts organizations will have been lost. Many schools and companies will not make it through this crisis.
But, the arts in general have seen great resilience in the past—coming back after wars and crises of all kinds. The arts are generated by the will of the people, and as long as the people desire them, they will survive.”
Master ballet teacher, Artistic Director of Fields Ballet NYC, former Artistic Director of Minnesota Ballet
“Formed in March of 2020, The Broadway Relief Project was a coalition of Broadway costume designers, tailors, stage managers, actors and other Broadway professionals to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and build PPE for the frontline workers in the New York City Public Hospitals.
Almost overnight we transformed Open Jar Studios, a 50,000 square foot Broadway rehearsal space, into an essential business – a PPE factory to create medical gowns. We enlisted the skills of the teams who are normally building thousands of costumes for Broadway shows, and over 400 members from the Broadway community to partner with the NYC/EDC (Economic Development Corporation) to create PPE for the doctors and nurses of New York.
In the first 59 days of the crisis, we worked together to create over 51,000 medical gowns which went directly to the front-line hospital workers. In addition to creating PPE for hospitals, the project also manufactures specialized safety masks for singers, production crew, and instrumentalists, being used by over 100,000 music makers worldwide.
We also produced the very first live entertainment since the start of the pandemic with the Broadway Relief Concert Series, featuring solo concerts of Broadway stars to an in-person socially-distant live audience which was also live-streamed around the globe.
In addition to having found a way to contribute solutions during the pandemic, it was also thrilling that The Broadway Relief Project created over 400 jobs for theatre professionals during this difficult time when our industry has been completely shut down.
Those who work in live theatre are hard-wired to deal with the unexpected where anything can happen on the stage, so it is no surprise to me that the Broadway community rallied together through The Broadway Relief Project to work to find solutions for the health and safety of New Yorkers. I’m incredibly proud of the Broadway Relief Project team and to work side by side with some of the greatest problem-solvers on the planet.”
Director/Choreographer, Founder of Open Jar Studios
“For performing arts organizations, the key focus has been survival. In the midst of a pandemic, organizations have to become thoughtful as to how they deliver product and spend time to be strategic moving forward. These are some major challenges and most organizations simply don’t have the infrastructure to do that kind of thinking.
From an artist’s perspective, the question becomes, ‘How do I continue to be an artist when I can’t perform?’ We must recalibrate our expectations. In both the virtual space and socially-distanced, limited-capacity scenarios, we have seen a lot of ingenuity that would not have emerged had we not been forced into this situation. It is important to view this time as an opportunity versus a challenge.”
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
“This period has taught me to be much more flexible than I ever have been… going with the flow, having much more understanding of the inability to control outcomes of almost anything, and just really taking a mental note that everyone is trying to do their best and offer whatever kindness they have left in them at any given moment during this frustrating and frightening time. Our community has been tested in almost every way, and I’m so proud to be part of such an incredible group of people; trying to keep dance and art alive, no matter the format, no matter the space available… here we are, mostly thriving.”
Educator, Producer of the Young Choreographer’s Festival
“The civil unrest in the summer months of the pandemic led me to pursue DEI work in the performing arts field. As a country, we’ve watched the systems in place tear down and abuse the individuals they claim to serve, but these occurrences are not new; so much of that inequality and inequity is present in the entertainment industry. Like many of us, I spent time reeducating myself, and I was given new language to further understand the microaggressions and racist moments that I myself had endured. I wanted to use my own experiences as a Black female dancer, musical theatre performer, and arts administrator to enlighten the blissfully ignorant, and to influence necessary, equitable change.
As the months continued, and our social media feeds returned to ‘normal,’ I couldn’t help but feel slightly defeated. The collective urgency was lessening, and with it, organizations’ sensitivity and openness to learn, change, and act. As Alaina Newell from Fourth Wall Podcast mentioned during my time on the show: performers are good at Performative Action.
I believe there are so many of us in the community who are doing the work and fighting the good fight. I know we will make incredible producers, directors, agents, designers, casting directors…. But what do we do in the meantime while so many of these power positions are held by people complicit in upholding white supremacy? And what can we do to influence change while we continue to sit at home and wait for our theaters, sets, theme parks, and cruise ships to reopen? I hope that when we return, the energy from the summer months will return as well. It will be a joyous and emotionally charged time, and I hope that the fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion will be a part of it.”
Performer, Arts Administrator, DEI Consultant
“What first comes to mind as I ask myself what has it been like navigating the past year of virtual teaching and coping with COVID? is…a year?!! It feels like a decade has passed in that ‘year!’
Early March 2020, when across our nation life as we knew it completely turned inside out, teaching became virtual—a very scary and daunting challenge for even those who were not as technically challenged as I was. Many, many, many layers of learning and problem-solving later, I have come to love teaching virtually. I’ve been challenged to become a more intuitive and patient teacher.
As the weeks and months and now nearly a year have passed, I have found that my teaching virtually has been my grounding constant. Throughout chaos, instability, devastating consequences that have marked this year, teaching—giving back—has anchored me, rendering me ‘grounded and lifted at the same time.’”
Educator, Reconstructeur with the Verdon Fosse Legacy, Broadway Veteran
Next Monday, we’re examining where our industry and community are at in the current state of the world. Stay tuned…