Dance, by its very nature, is an intensely personal endeavor, involving the body, as well as intellect and emotion. But dancing is seldom solitary. The sense of connecting with other bodies, other sources of energy, and the momentum generated by bodies moving together and in opposition can fuel a palpable electric charge. In this time of social distancing, those of us who regularly dance are missing not just the visceral thrill of movement, but the joy of dancing together.
Meghan Riling, dancer/marketing director of Haitian contemporary dance company Jean Appolon Expressions, says “There are so many people who refer to attending [Jean’s] Saturday class as ‘going to church.’ With so [much] devastating news and a lack of physical connection, we really need to be there for our community as much as we can.” The organization is now hosting online classes and tutorials.
Teachers and performers, many of them freelancers in the gig-based economy, are losing much-needed income. Those who supplement their dance income with low-wage work “are going to be hit doubly as this drags out,” says Debra Cash, executive director of Boston Dance Alliance. “If they’re working as temps or cashiers, in restaurants or in roles in the community that care for the body…many are not eligible for unemployment.”
But Greater Boston’s dance community isn’t taking it lying down. Even as organizations such as Boston Dance Alliance, the Boston Artist Relief Fund, Dance/USA, MassCreative, Americans for the Arts, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council seek ways to provide a glimmer of hope for some financial assistance, dance studios and independent teachers are finding ways to keep classes going. Using Zoom, Instagram Live, Facebook Live, Google Hangout, even Skype, they are live streaming from their living rooms and basements, with only a computer, tablet, or phone. The stylistic range of offerings is remarkable — from contemporary (Project31dance.org) to jazz (MassMotion.com) and flamenco (LSFlamenco.com), from country western line dancing (JKDance.com) to Dance With Parkinson’s (Urbanitydance.org), to a range of ballet, hip-hop, tap, and somatic practices. Some, like MiniMoversStudio.com and BallroominBoston.com’s Facebook page, have offerings tailored for young children.
Many classes are open to anyone and free; some are geared for beginners. Live streaming classes often allow participants to see each other and perhaps ask questions, with teachers offering guidance.
Boston University ballet teacher Margot Parsons is streaming classes from her home library, and loops in her regular accompanist, who plays for some of the classes from her living room in Brookline. “The pianist and I can communicate, and the students can follow the barre and center work,” says Parsons. “I can even make individual corrections.”
New England’s busiest multi-genre facility, The Dance Complex in Cambridge, is offering its teachers the opportunity to live stream classes via the organization’s Instagram channel (Instagram.com/thedancecomplex), boosting visibility and access. Cambridge Community Center for the Arts (cccaonline.org) is jump-starting its interactive online video/remote learning and teaching platform to allow "students to attend remotely, and faculty members to teach from wherever they are comfortable,” says president and executive artistic director Dan Yonah Marshall. The organization is offering its A/V online streaming setup to the greater dance community, too.
Other studios are following suit, and in some cases increasing the range of offerings. Cape Cod Ballroom Dance’s Adam Spencer (Adaminchatham.com) is adding youth musical theater workshops as well as online lectures ranging from anatomy to music theory in addition to community classes. “I want to ensure that children as well as adults everywhere have the opportunity and free access to dance,” he says.
This could be an ideal opportunity to try something new — salsa, hip-hop, a folk dance, a ballet barre using the back of a chair. And if someone in your household is game, explore the foxtrot or tango together. YouTube offers a wealth of instructional videos, and experts say learning new movement sequences can help keep the brain sharp and the body limber.
Dance Church, which hosts loosely guided free form classes for communal dancing in cities around the world, now schedules live virtual experiences at Go.dancechurch.com. More than 900 participants joined the first class. By the third class last Sunday, participants numbered more than 3,600. (Tuning in for research, I was almost immediately swept to my feet.)
The BostonDanceAlliance.org blog offers ongoing news bulletins, and anyone can sign up for the organization’s newsletter. Two Facebook sites — Boston Dancers & Choreographers and Boston Dance Community — are serving as real-time bulletin boards for dance information.
For those looking for a go-to source for local class listings, Callie Chapman’s new site Artist2Artist.org aims to fill the void. A handful of live-streaming classes — Haitian dance taught by Jean Appolon is one — are listed there now, some suggesting small donations via Venmo.
Chapman, a Somerville-based dancer and the artistic director of Studio at 550, hopes the site can grow to serve as a platform for Greater Boston listings, and envisions a registration tool facilitating payment or donations to help keep initiatives afloat and the dancing going.
“In a way, this is like baby steps for dancers to engage in different ways with their communities,” Chapman said, “so that hopefully when we all go back into the studio, classes will have more students for the future — the community will exponentially grow.”
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.