Posted on July 7, 2020
What is a dancer without dance? For me, it’s been over 80 days since the official lockdown began where I’m located (Sarasota, Florida), and the enforced pause in my normal life has afforded space for plenty of thinking. I’ve found the cut and thrust of my old routine made it seem there was just one way to do things, usually out of expediency, but I’m now understanding that’s not the case.
Dancing has helped me understand how physical and mental wellbeing intermingle. The ability to use your body to inhale and exhale at different rates, and be conscious of this act, has a soothing effect when your mind is preoccupied by the vicissitudes of daily life. Over lockdown, I’ve noticed the changing tides of my own feelings as the days have gone on. Some mornings I’m full of optimism and grateful for the time to organise my activity as I see fit, but at other times I’m overwhelmed with feelings of pointlessness. My restlessness came out of the expectation that the state of inertia consuming public and private life would extend for an unknown period of time. My feelings are compounded by the unconscious pressure to be doing something with the hours that stretch out before me.
Much of the print and digital content produced over the past months have extolled the potential of the transformative qualities of this lockdown experience. This focus on seeing a silver lining in things is necessary and extremely beneficial at times, yet can also invalidate very real feelings. In stronger moments I understand some of my moods have been indulgent, but on my most grumpy days I’ve found it remarkably soothing to acknowledge no one ever imagined we would be living in a world like this, that the situation affecting all our lives is indeed, rubbish. Grounding myself in small amounts of activity, such as a daily walk or a ballet barre followed by some breathing and stretching routines, has helped. Reading the thoughts of other dancers has helped, too. In the New York Times Gia Kourlas spoke to New York City Ballet’s Jacqueline Bologna, who expressed similar sentiments: “Everything else is up in the air. The days feel super long with unlimited possibilities.” A commitment to physical training has been “the most normal thing in this whole quarantine”.
What has been a positive is reminding myself how much my career gives me. There is a selfish satisfaction in acknowledging how dancing feels like anything but a job, a sort of intrinsic value for the artist that goes beyond performing a task for monetary gain. Beyond that, participating in dance helps me interact with people on a profound level. The very act of turning out your body has a kind of generosity about it; an invitation to watch and observe. Contrasting with these thoughts is the philosophy that to scale back, reduce contact and contract all leaves a stain on our consciousness. The inability to touch people has been significant, and there has been a constant question in my mind: how will dance inhabit this new space where touch, the most intimate of human experiences, is restricted?
When our world begins to look more normal, will there be an appetite for nostalgia and fantasy? I’m wondering if the more poignant parts of favourite ballets will glow with a new focus? The hushed spirituality of a quiet moment in Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations (where each couple reaches out to hold hands and wreathe the stage in a gentle run) plays in my mind. Again, Kourlas offered food for thought in an article musing on how ballet comes across on a digital platform. She made an astute point about a high-profile company’s digital identity evoking a “dusty 1980s glamour”. It made me reconsider things I’ve written myself. I was given space in the May issue of Dancing Times to reflect on how it felt to be a dancer right now, mentioning how one intoxicating aspect of the profession was that you get to become someone other than yourself, and in some way take refuge from reality. I’m wondering how tenable that feeling is right now?
Whilst we have focused on preventing the spread of one contagion, our world is also assessing how we can eliminate the corrosive impact of centuries of systemic racism on the lives of black people. I used the word “pause” to open this piece, and the additional connotation this word calls up in association with the #theshowmustbepaused movement across social media is pertinent for the arts. We have the space to reposition this topic more centrally in our cultural lives. I can’t offer hard answers, but I’m willing to educate myself and help ballet reflect the world we live in, or indeed hope to live in.
In the middle of the summer, with the world beginning to lightly move a toe or two after weeks of inaction, I’m feeling there is a constant story of expansion and contraction, resignation and assignation in things. It might be Autumn 2020, or Spring 2021, but the day we can consume any of the arts in the form they were intended to be seen – live, visceral, urgently now – will feel like a home coming. It would, however, be tone-deaf to proceed in the same way as before; indeed, I don’t think we can.
Pictured: Daniel Pratt taking class at home in Sarasota during lockdown. Photographs courtesy of Daniel Pratt.