Dancers on Lockdown: Were they able to survive quarantine?

By Wendolyn Grullon

On March 15, 2020 everything changed in the United States. The Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19 has now caused a world-wide pandemic. NYC schools were shut down after the constant debate on whether or not it was the best decision. In person learning was now switched to remote classes due to the Coronavirus. This indicated that many other places would be shutting down, for example, dance studios. Imagine training for years on end for an activity that you are so passionate about. You worked so hard for a whole year for a performance or competition only for it to get taken away by a deadly virus. This is what dancers have experienced after the outbreak of the coronavirus, especially in NYC. The people of the city were not safe and had to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus. Dance is the movement of the body in a rhythmic way, usually to music and within a given space, for the purpose of expressing an idea or emotion, releasing energy, or simply taking delight in the movement itself. Dancers are used to exercising everyday and being active, but when all of a sudden that is taken away from you it also takes away your mental motivation. Even though there are many people out in the world that are not dancers it is interesting to inform yourself about other people’s struggles. It helps to know that you are not alone and that many people are going through the same emotions with you.

The dancers at the Queens Dance Academy in Glendale, NY talked about their experiences with covid and the hardships they faced. Jaymie Rehberger, 17, a senior in high school, has been dancing for 13 years. Her favorite style of dance is lyrical and contemporary. Dancing is one of her greatest passions. When she heard that studios were closing she told me, “I was very sad and even cried at some points. I was very upset, but I knew it was the best for everyone to stay safe.” Jaymie described that the emotion that she felt the most during quarantine was “sadness.” Even though she was sad she didn’t let this get in the way of her dance education and training. “I took many zoom classes from my studio and from Broadway Dance Center.” She said. She also suggested that any dancers that want to continue taking classes could register for classes at Broadway Dance Center, all you need to do is go on the website, http://www.broadwaydancecenter.com and you can take as many classes as you want. Even though it wasn’t the same, it was a way to cope with the pandemic and not seeing friends or family. Nicole Byrnes, 16, also a senior in high school, has been dancing for 14 years, her favorite style is jazz, Nicole stated, “A lot of dancers use dance to help express their feelings. I know I use dance for myself as an escape from reality. It was very difficult for many artists to find creativity being stuck at home for several months. However we all found our ways to adjust.” Although dancers were going through such a hard time, they were able to push through and accept that this was a serious pandemic and it was more important to stay safe and healthy. Christina Quique, a 17 year old whose favorite style of dance is modern, was actually kind of glad that this was happening. She stated, “I felt a bit relieved just because I thought a break would be nice since dance took up my whole Saturday. Though I thought it was gonna be for a few weeks but, unfortunately, it wasn’t and I miss it.” Many people were caught off guard and were glad they would have a small break from reality for a few weeks, those “few weeks” turned into months which discouraged a lot of people. If dancers are feeling discouraged they can visit https://www.wearemindingthegap.org/resources. This website provides different resources to help dancers with their mental health and also provides different hotlines and lifelines that even non-dancers can reach out to for help. One example is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1.800.273.8255. There are also many well-known dancers that are also going live on Instagram for free for students who are not able to pay for classes during these difficult times. Some of these people are Delaney Glazer and Tim Milgram, they have  tutorials of combinations on youtube that are completely free where dancers can learn mostly hiphop or jazz inspired combinations. 

In NYC, there was an abundant amount of studios and dance companies that shut down due to Covid. Queens Dance Academy, a local studio in Glendale, NY shut down on March 16, 2020, right after schools were closed. Dancing is a contact sport and there is a lot of touching and sweating, which would show that dancing with others around in an enclosed space was not ideal. According to nytimes.com it states, “They work in studio spaces with varying degrees of ventilation, they share dressing rooms, they touch, and they are prone to heavy breathing. Under what conditions should dance companies consider getting back into the studio during the pandemic? The protocols to be put in place are dizzying.” Dance Competitions usually took place in March, April or May and studios would go to the National Finals in June, July and August. It was disappointing that these events weren’t going to take place with all the hard work that was put into it, especially since for the senior class of 2020 it was their last time on stage. Multiple competitions were able to create virtual ones such as Starbound Dance Competition and Break the Floor, dance studios which sent pre-recorded videos of students doing their routines and judges would view the routines and give the dancers certain awards. This was the best way competitions could keep dancers “performing” and “dancing.” There were also numerous things that helped dancers keep up with their technique. After it was announced that everyone should start quarantining, zoom became an important aspect in dance education. Even if you were stuck in a tiny corner of your house, you had to make some sacrifices in order to keep taking class. Amy Minick, 17, stated, “I knew virtual dance classes were gonna be frustrating and not as intriguing.” Although it may have been disengaging it was better than not doing anything at all. According to the New York Post many professional dancers have been using zoom conferences to continue with class, but also normal teenagers in dance studios also used this method to keep up with training. “Zoom conferences replaced in-person rehearsals and cramped living rooms stood in for spacious studios…But performers are a resilient bunch: They got creative about staying in tip-top shape and bringing their craft to the masses via virtual recitals, lessons and even playful Instagram and TikTok videos.” During the pandemic many dancers would meet up outdoors in parks to continue with their practices, they would make sure to keep their masks on and keep distance, but at least dancers were able to get a breath of fresh air and see people’s faces in real life instead of a computer screen.

After the pandemic simmered down a reopening plan was created where businesses would open in phases. Jaymie Rehberger stated , “My emotions changed tremendously, I was very sad and didn’t know what to do with myself in the beginning of quarantine. When the studio started to reopen I was so excited and anxious to get back into the studio again.” Nicole Byrnes also added, “I was extremely excited to return to the studio and not be stuck in a room to dance. I would rather have a larger space.” There were four phases of reopening. Dance studios were in phase 3. Once they reopened, there was an abundance of regulations used in studios to prevent the spread of the virus. These rules are the same in professional dance studios such as the American Ballet Theatre or your local dance studio around the corner. Before dancers enter the studio they must have their temperature taken and answer questions about what they have been doing to make sure they did not come in contact with potentially infected people. Dancers have to wear masks when entering the studio and while dancing. There are no parents allowed in the waiting room. Before entering the studio you have to take your temperature. If you have a fever you must go home. There are boxes on the floor that dancers need to stand in to make sure dancers stay 6 feet apart at all times. In the Ballet Club, they have a website where it states the specific rules that everyone must follow in order to have a safe environment. These rules are the same regulations that every studio in the United States needs to follow. In all capital letters the club emphasizes that these rules are important. As you can see there were many strict rules that everyone needs to remember in order to stay safe and stay open. Amy Minick, 17 years old, stated, “It was refreshing to be in another environment other than my home, so I was happy.” To these dancers it didn’t matter how they had to dance as long as they were doing what they loved and were back to a spacious studio where they can dance with full-energy. 

Since many studios were and still are battling to stay open and not go out of business, the owner of Queens Dance Academy, Amanda Tasakovic was interviewed on how she was able to stay open and pay the rent during this difficult time. She said, “I did a lot of praying, it was hard to keep up, I had to reach into my savings account to make sure the studio stayed open. I lost a lot of students due to the pandemic and it was very stressful, I wasn’t going to let COVID take my studio.” She also mentioned, “I know that this is a stressful time and I just want these young dancers to at least have dance as a constant factor since everything changed this year.” Amanda Tasakovic as well as many other dance studio owners in New York City and around the world are trying to make ends meet to keep their businesses open.  

Enjoy these beautiful pictures of the students that were taken by the studio owner Amanda Tasakovic and the parents of the students that attend Queens Dance Academy, showing how these kids are persevering and adapting to the new normal.

Hopefully after this pandemic is over we are better than we ever were before and are ready to start a new chapter in our lives. Until then we can follow the example of the resilient dancers of NYC that continue to persevere and work through this pandemic no matter the obstacles that come their way.

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