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International Dance Day 2020: Dancing in a Pandemic

“Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost.” - Pina Bausch

Take a look at the ground on which you are standing; the surface on which you are sitting. Notice the sounds and vibrations around you; the objects in your space. Your space. This space, even if it is currently your living room, backyard, or corner you cleared out just enough room to do rond de jambes and grand battements in, is a place of respite, problem-solving, and celebration.

A female dancer doing an arabesque (ballet step) outside in front of the mountains.
Fiona Scruggs doing an Arabesque Outdoors

On this International Dance Day, while many of us are social distancing in our homes, remember that celebration does not always need to be exuberantly cheerful (although it most certainly can if you feel it). We can acknowledge the magnitude of the situation we are experiencing and celebrate through gratitude how dance is playing a role in our coping. Although dancing in your living room is likely not the most ideal or conducive to great technical strides, we can still dance in small spaces. Despite the fact that video conferencing for dance classes and rehearsals comes with a lag in the music, we can still engage with the music that makes our movement richer. Even though in-person interaction in the dance studio is currently replaced by a screen, we can still connect with those whom we share a great passion for movement, creativity, and art.

We are not completely "lost." We can still hold close and experience the essence of dance within ourselves and our spaces. Dance is ephemeral. It only exists when we, the dancers and movers, make it happen. Dance was not “created” in a studio with marley floor and mirrored walls, nor does it’s existence rely on that particular space. It doesn’t rely on any particular space for that matter.

Dance as we know it today originally came out of tribal rituals and day-to-day activities of people’s lives. Later, these movements evolved into folk dances, which eventually morphed into stylized and codified forms of dance including ballet, jazz, modern, tap, and ballroom, to name a few. With these stylizations also came the additions of new rituals and practices of dancing on certain floors and wearing specific shoes. Yet, these dances can still exist in some form even without those specificities. Granted, the right floor and shoes make the dance what it is intended to be, no doubt. Just because you have the right conditions, though, does not mean you have the dance. To have the dance, you need the spirit, the artistry, and the essence of the movement.

In my own recent (and novice) experience of online teaching, taking dance classes, and rehearsing via video conferencing, I will admit to having felt frustrated when technology fails or the music lags or the camera angle isn’t just right. Most recently, I was teaching an online ballet class via Zoom and my computer microphone stopped working. My students could see me, but they couldn’t hear anything. Fortunately, I was prepared with the Zoom app on my phone and quickly logged into the meeting through my phone. Of course, this now meant that all my available devices were being used and I had no efficient way of playing music. As I was explaining to my students how I was going to teach the rest of class sans music, I realized that we did not have to use music to have a good ballet class. This technological audio problem was not going to render us unable to dance, unless we chose not to dance. Dance will overcome. And it did. We completed the rest of the class with me counting and speaking in time as we did our pliés, tendus, and grand battements.

A female dancer demonstrating a tendu (ballet step).
Fiona Scruggs Teaching Ballet Virtually

Although navigating technology issues in an online dance class can be a bit tricky, there are far bigger problems in our world right now than the perfect audio level or camera angle. I am grateful to have these platforms to continue sharing movement experiences with fellow dancers amid incredibly challenging times.

For this, no matter what your current “studio” or “stage” looks like, we can celebrate. We can celebrate that the essence of dance lies within us, where there are no perimeters or technological limitations. We can celebrate that dance heals and rejuvenates.

However you may be participating in International Dance Day 2020, celebrate what dance means to you and how it keeps you from getting “lost.”

“Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost.” -Pina Bausch

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