Dance is physical in a way no other art forms, and not many jobs, are. In a world that demands that everything be done virtually, dancing became virtually impossible in the ways that it has existed before. When dancers can’t share space in studios, training is limited to what can be accomplished in living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms — on unsuitable floors with obstacles in every direction. Without peers, coaches, or the promise of performance, it is easy for a dancer’s motivation to falter.
As dancers’ primary purpose — to perform, to tell stories, to bring joy — has been almost entirely stripped away, we have, alongside the rest of the world, found ways to evolve. Like those of many other industries in the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these adaptations have turned out to be positive developments that we should carry forward. One of the most beneficial shifts has been increased accessibility for students and audience members alike.
The pandemic has afforded us the necessary opportunity to expand how we think about dance training and allowed us to chip away at the industry’s wall of exclusivity. For students of dance, the barrier to entry can be rather steep: from tuition to studio access to shoes — not to mention the often rigid and traditional atmosphere. Streaming classes online, however, has opened up a host of new possibilities and allowed us to reach a wider audience. The pandemic so far has led to the production of dance classes of almost every level and style, with the ability to stream live or on demand, taught by all kinds of world class teachers and professionals. These classes have created more space for dancers with disabilities, and have often been low cost or free — creating a far more equitable place for learning. Of course, these online classes cannot match the experience of an in-person class with a teacher who can provide individual corrections and other students who support and push you. Nevertheless, they are valuable and valid ways of learning that can help expand and fill in the gaps in the world of dance training.
We should also carry forward the ways in which we have had to rethink performance and how we share dance. Streamed or filmed performances as well as other virtual materials have great value, and should remain in some capacity even when live shows start to trickle back in. In a recent keynote I was fortunate to attend, Randi Zuckerberg argued that theater (and performing arts in general) should be expanding and building an online presence in order to stay successful. Just compare how easily sporting events can be streamed on cell phones to how difficult it is to fly to New York City and pay a steep price to see a Broadway show. Though live performance is an unparalleled experience, streaming or otherwise expanding the ways in which people can access the performing arts may prove to be essential to the industry’s continued survival. For example, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema has already demonstrated how dance companies can successfully expand their productions into the digital sphere and reach a broader audience of moviegoers.
Dance has historically been a highly exclusive world, and we still have a long way to go. But in a time when nothing about the world is the same — when powerful demands for social change are being voiced and heard — perhaps this can be the impetus for dance to reevaluate how we share our art, and whom it reaches.
—Sara Komatsu ‘23’s column “Backstage at the Ballet” explores anything and everything ballet-related, from its moments of joy and despair to the broader, systematic issues within it.