For dancers, daily class is a regimen designed to keep the body finely tuned and prepared for the rigour of rehearsal and performance. It typically requires expansive studio space, and is most often done to live piano accompaniment and - most importantly - with other company members, creating an ethic of moving and working together.
Now, sheltering in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic, dancers around the world have found ways of practising together while far apart. And, for the benefit of the rest of us, they are sharing their adjusted at-home routines on social media, using their creativity to reach an audience that extends beyond the theatre.
Due to the tight schedules of professional performers, it is rare that the top talent can take time out to instruct a workshop; when they do, participation is limited to the studio. But online streaming means thousands of amateurs can follow along with their idols at home. More than 15,000 people, for example, participated in a live-streamed ballet class by American Ballet Theatre principals Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside.
The Cindies, as they are collectively nicknamed, wore socks, not slippers, and used a kitchen bench as a barre. They are among the many dancers who have been modifying their workouts to fit the confined spaces they are in —bedrooms, kitchens, even laundry spaces. Sessions often focus on targeted strength and technique training, revealing the immense amount of preparation that goes into a body before it gets moving. Anna Ol, principal dancer of Dutch National Ballet, routinely films her strenuous exercises, which she annotates to help guide those brave enough to join in.
Other dancers are cutting sigh-inducing extensions with comic relief, taking this time to break free of class etiquette and to let their hair down (literally, no buns). Skylar Brandt, American Ballet Theatre soloist, hosted a pyjama barre party one evening. UK-based dancer Joel Brown emphasizes playing with space - with a stylish turn among his pot plants.
Toilet paper has become a theme in itself. Rui Huang, a former dancer turned personal trainer, amusingly incorporated it into her ab routine, swinging her legs over a stack of TP: The higher the stack, the tougher the workout. Classical ballet teaching adage asks dancers to imagine setting a teacup on the inside of the ankle to encourage turnout. Georgeta Varvarici of Staatsballett Berlin gets points for being on theme, subbing a roll of toilet tissue for the fabled piece of china.
Companies have also been showcasing their dancers in work-from-home mode, in an effort to stay in touch with fans and patrons. The Czech National Ballet’s montage Dance Through It offered a portrait of public and private spaces in Prague enlivened by dancers training on rooftops, on balconies and framed by windows. Dancers of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater stunningly recreated the opening song I Been ‘Buked from Revelations, splicing together videos of each dancer performing their part in their own home; it earned more than 100,000 views on Instagram.
Ballet Hispánico, based in New York, is offering a daily dose of dancing on Instagram. Called B Unidos, it celebrates the company’s 50th anniversary with the goal of serving as class, exercise and - much needed right now - inspiration.
As company dancer Gabrielle Sprauve said in a recent post: “We will continue to persevere as a Latinx community. We will continue to dance in our homes and on our roofs, and we will continue to B Unidos. We will be united.”
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