In early 2020, I was fresh off the glittering high of La Classique du Québec and looking forward to my next dance event when the world fell down. In short: the COVID-19 pandemic. In Québec, lockdown crashed down upon us on March 23. Only essential services remained open. And a long period of isolation began. My dance studio -- my second home, my second family, my therapy, my refuge, and my joy -- was cut off.
I was not happy. To put it mildly.
While it is true that you can dance anywhere and yes, I can practice in my basement, what is also true is that when you have limited space and a thousand new worries hanging over your head it is also hard. When you know that after two, maybe three Tango/Foxtrot/Waltz/Viennese Waltz (ha!) basics you’ll hit a literal wall it becomes frustrating. And when the floor is vinyl and kills the suede soles of your shoes and makes you feel off-balance, it is irritating. And when you have to limit your arm action depending on where you are because you might knock something down (guilty), it feels stifling.
Everybody needs a break. Your body needs to rest at some point. But when it’s a prolonged break you never intended to take...that is something else entirely. After a week of working on my steps and going over our Ladies Heels’ Formation in the basement, I needed something else to keep me going. I’m used to spending hours at my studio during the week and since it was becoming apparent that this lockdown was not going to be over after a mere two weeks like we were hoping, I was going to go crazy if I couldn’t burn off my stress in the way I was accustomed to.
Then I remembered that my favourite pro dancer from Dancing With the Stars, Sharna Burgess, had created a series of dance cardio workout routines. When I looked at her website, the entire bundle was on sale. So I bought it. And it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent. Not only did her classes keep my body moving in the way I was used to, but they’ve also strengthened and toned my muscles, and increased my endurance so that I am stronger now than I was before lockdown. Funny how that works. Doing the classes also helped me sleep better. I still keep up with them, even now.
Anyhow. That was a step. But we were still stuck in lockdown. So I started a Facebook group and a weekly Friday night chat for my studio peeps. And, to be honest, the chat became something I never expected it to become. It was our haven, our time to connect and unwind. To laugh and catch up and be there for each other. And it kept us relatively sane, even though we were all aching to be back in the studio.
Time passed. I had to stop listening to the news because it was making me more and more anxious (I would literally ask my mother “Is there anything I need to know or should know?” and get it that way). During this time, a lot of dance schools started to do classes and lessons online, using various platforms (Zoom being the most common, but there was also Facebook Live as another contender). And then my studio started doing Zoom classes every night, each taught by a different instructor. Since most (if not all) of us had limited space to work with, there was a lot of focus on technique and exercises we could do ourselves. Naturally, it was a bit easier to do Rhythm steps as opposed to Smooth steps, but we all made it work. And having that structure again was...so good. I was so, so grateful.
A couple words about the Zoom classes. I’ve taught online classes (not dance, but ESL as well as a University level course). Online teaching is hard. I personally find it more exhausting to teach for an hour online than to stand in front of a class of 15 to 30 students for two hours (there are actual scientific reasons for that, and I’ll post some links at the very end). So to every single one of my teachers: THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart.
The second thing that I noticed, at least for myself, is that in spite of the limitations of space and floor-type, I found that constantly doing the steps and exercises on my own made me more aware of what I was doing and gave me confidence to do it on my own instead of relying on my partner (guilty! Anyone else??).
After a few weeks, we started online private lessons. They offered the first one for free to give us a chance to see if we liked it or not. Private lessons were more of a challenge, especially for me since I was using my work laptop and the sound on it didn’t always seem to work well on Zoom (found that out the hard way over some Friday night chats, ha). And then there was finding the right place to put the computer so the camera would see my feet, lack of real space, etc etc etc. But again, we made it work.
Until! Oh, until!!
“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
[S]he chortled in [her] joy.
The day at last came where we were allowed to re-open!
That feeling of setting foot in the door after so long...of moving across that proper ballroom floor...I don't think there are really any words to properly describe it. But if you're a dancer, you know.
We began with private lessons only and then began adding in-studio group classes, complemented by Zoom classes. And while we are wearing masks and taking all necessary precautions (social disDANCEing) and it is still far from normal, we are back.
And it feels good. So. Good.
Having my dance studio -- my second home, my second family, my therapy, my refuge, and my joy -- back, helps me breathe more easily.
To my Arthur Murray Dance Studio West Island teachers: thank you all so much for your dedication and encouragement and for teaching us even when it wasn’t easy. Your creativity in working with what we've got amazes me and I am so damn thankful to and for every single one of you. And to everyone: seeing your faces again in person is everything.
Don’t stop the music.
Poem excerpt from Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42916/jabberwocky
Sharna Burgess dance classes:
DANCERS' COVID DIARIES continues next month with an article written by Khanh Chau, detailing her experiences with dancing through the pandemic.
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