Isolated Dancers Sustain Inspiration through Virtual Rehearsals

While Contra Costa County’s shelter-in-place order has dramatically impacted various aspects of daily life, dancers are finding new ways to practice their art from the safety of their homes.

Under these unusual circumstances, Walnut Creek’s Contra Costa Ballet and Moraga’s California Academy of Performing Arts (CAPA) have both developed virtual dance experiences for their respective students, delivering online training with the use of video conferencing platforms.

According to Contra Costa Ballet instructor and Associate Artistic Director Emily Borthwick, Contra Costa Ballet is continuing instruction and training for its students through Zoom. “Teaching ballet via an online platform is a strange experience, a little surreal, surprisingly exhausting and stressful, and yet extremely inspiring, heartening and motivating,” said Borthwick.

Sophomore CAPA dancer Halley Campo said, “During our time away from the studio, CAPA has made a Zoom schedule that aligns pretty close to our normal class days. At first, it was hard figuring out how to play music, deal with lagging and glitches, and pick up combinations, but as we do more classes, it’s going a lot smoother.”

The environment in which dancers are now practicing their art is very different from that of a typical dance studio. Students are using chairs, counter tops, or tables as makeshift ballet barres, and some have purchased equipment, such as marley flooring to mimic dance studio flooring and portable barres, in the hopes of making at-home classes easier.

Borthwick said, “As dancers and teachers we train, create, teach and rehearse together in the studio and finally perform together on stage. But in this new reality we are not together. Instead we are practicing our art from our kitchen or bedroom. We are alone. I am teaching to a computer, worrying about the technology that might disconnect us at anytime. There is no pianist. I cannot feel the energy of the dancers I am teaching.”

“It’s definitely been difficult adjusting to the new space and having all of the distractions while dancing, but I was pleasantly surprised with how similar virtual classes are to our regular ones and I am very grateful to have a way to stay in shape,” said sophomore Contra Costa Ballet dancer Mia Kelly.

While most dancers are similarly grateful to have the opportunity to take class from home, there are some challenges that come with dancing while social distancing.

Freshman CAPA dancer Mira Shah said, “It’s a challenging time as a dancer because, knowing we are going to be off for a while, it is up to us to keep up our strength and technique. Nobody is there correcting you or telling you to attend class, so it is even more about discipline.”

Beyond the struggles of finding motivation, dancing at homes brings physical challenges as well. “Personally, dancing from home is a little tough because I’m very tall for a girl and have long legs. This doesn’t help with the fact that there isn’t much space in my room to dance,” said Contra Costa Ballet dancer Aidan Crow, a junior at Las Lomas High School.

Crow added, “I miss my friends from the studio, mainly. Also, the feeling you get when you’re dancing with so many people and trying to become a better dancer, as well as seeing the progress you’ve made. I hope my friends and I can start dancing in the studio again soon.”

Despite these struggles, dancers of both Contra Costa Ballet and CAPA are making the most of a poor situation, continuing to practice their craft and dance from home. Many have come to realize the importance of staying connected and creating a sense of community, even from afar. “It’s super important for us, as dancers, to not only keep up our technique with limited space, but to stay connected with each other as much as possible,” said Campo.

Borthwick said, “[The dancers’] dedication and commitment still shines through and so, for an hour or so, as I look to the computer and see everyone, it almost feels like ballet class as usual.”