Coping, Hoping, Creating and Relaxing

In an effort to understand how dance is being intimately affected by the coronavirus epidemic and its ripple effects, I sent out a questionnaire to dance friends and colleagues. Below are the rest of the responses I received. You can read the first round of responses here.

I hope dancers the world over are finding the resources they need to get through this, as well as the strength to draw from it. -Emmaly

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Astad Deboo in Mumbai, India

How has the coronavirus personally affected your dance practice?

Due to the present situation, all my performances have been called off. Most of them I hope are postponed and not cancelled, though time will tell. As all my artists are out of Mumbai, I am unable to work with them. My project of teaching the deaf students at the St. Stephens High School for the Deaf in Mumbai is closed as the school is closed. Performances, which were programmed through May, are now not happening. I am hoping to revive new dates for the postponed shows. I am also planning to begin a choreography for the deaf students, who I have been mentoring since 2019 January.

In June, I was to head for New Zealand to initiate a project with a dancer and a poetess. At the same time, she had set up interviews for me to meet programmers and visit dance departments of universities in Wellington and Auckland. Regarding the second half of the year, there is an invitation from the University of Hawaii to perform and discuss the dance scene in India vis-à-vis my own work. Another project was to be part of a drumming festival in early September in Chicago, but I don’t think that will happen.

How are you creatively coping?

I have a large living space where I stretch out and been listening to music and making notes. I can probably use some of the tracks in upcoming choreography. I have nothing specific in mind when I listen to the music; it motivates me, and I can see how the same music would work differently on my dancers and my drummers. There is music that would work for my deaf dancers and then that very music can be interpreted by me as a solo work.

I am not into doing online teaching.

What are you most worried about financially?

My artists, dancers and drummers all come from low income families, so many times they are the bread winners. Many of my dancers were at one point street children; some are orphans who have risen to becoming professional practitioners. Some not only dance but also work with puppeteers and actors, some have branched into photography. In India, there is nothing like unemployment help from the government, so my immediate concern is for my dancers, as their households run on income from performances, though some teach in schools. All that has stopped and, for the next four months at least, there will be very dire consequences.

I have been able to extend some monetary help, but I can’t see myself extending help for all the months. Besides them, I have the responsibility to pay the house help, which comes to clean the house as well as the person who washes my car every day. In the West, there is no concept of having house help, but in India, many are gainfully employed this way. All the people who come to help have been with the family for 30 years, some less some more, and they also work for others.

My drummers in Manipur do make a living by playing in the morning in the temples. Their services are required for wedding celebrations or on the solemn occasion of ceremonies after a person passes away.

Fortunately, I do have a dance foundation, so the donations received are tax deductible. One depends on donations from friends or, very occasionally, corporations donate, but the amounts are not large. Moreover, I am the main fundraiser; my board members are unable to raise money. I have been able to keep it going but never have been able to raise the ideal amount. One learns to allocate funds wisely, and I am thankful that the foundation is able to extend help in our own modest ways.

What’s giving you strength or keeping you grounded these days?

Prayer. Seeing most of us rise to the occasion at this hour of difficult times. To be calm and see how I can be of help to the less fortunate.

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Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura in Seattle, WA

How has the coronavirus personally affected your dance practice?

I lost several performance opportunities, and one dance-related speaking gig, which is unfortunate, but it’s not where I am really feeling the impact. In recent years, my dance work has been closely tied to my Asian American activism and my desire to help foster more representation for People of Color. Where I hurt most is the disconnection from my family, my elders, my API community, and other People of Color whom I love and admire.

How are you creatively coping?

Ironically, before the pandemic hit, I had just paid for a new choreography reel. I had created a website (https://www.gabriellekazuko.com/) to better showcase my work after getting inquiries from people who wanted to hire me to perform, but thought my choreography was “traditional Japanese.” I created the website to paint a picture of what it looks like to blend contemporary dance with Asian American theater. It probably won’t serve much use for many months now, oh well! 

Right now, I’m not worried about creatively coping. My creativity is focused on fort-building with my two-year-old and creating delicious, yet healthy, meals for my family with limited grocery-store trips. I’m focusing on the sun on my face when I go for a walk outside, being in the moment while taking care of my baby girls (I have a three-month-old, as well). Dance will be there for me again when the time is right.

What are you most worried about financially?

I recently took a significant salary cut from my day job at Seattle Opera. As social distancing continues for months, not weeks, I’m worried about being laid off completely. This is going to be a long, painful road for arts organizations and artists. I also must acknowledge my privilege as someone with a historically stable source of income, as someone who has not been reliant on the gig economy, and as someone in a dual-earner household. I am very worried. But I must also be grateful for what I have; I have it much, much easier than many of my peers.

What’s giving you strength or keeping you grounded these days?

I feel grounded by thinking of my Japanese American community who survived incarceration during World War II and had no idea how long they would be living in confinement.

Any other thoughts, resources or worries you’d like to share?

Please take social distancing seriously so that we can “flatten the curve,” and dance onstage again, so that our audiences can return, so that our beloved artists and arts organizations can continue their vital work, so that the arts have a fighting chance. Nothing has ever been so important.

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Denise McDonald in Saratoga Springs, NY

How has the coronavirus personally affected your dance practice?

I was in the process of auditing classes (modern and ballet) at Skidmore College as well as observing the rehearsal process of their artist-in-residence for the semester (Caitlin Trainor) who was working with students on creating a piece for the department’s spring concert. I was also beginning an improvisational practice for choreography on my own with prompts supplied by this guest artist. All of this in-person work was canceled, and the school moved to remote learning. Last week was the first week of remote classes.

Although it has been a bit overwhelming and anxiety provoking, I am learning how to use new online tools that can benefit my dance practice in the future. I have felt VERY sad about not being able to take class and interact with students and faculty in person. I feel a significant loss of community and the ability to train at a higher level. The remote learning is definitely helping me with my isolation and lack of a dance community as well as providing training and other movement opportunities, but it is obviously not the same as dancing and creating in person with others. I am very grateful that the department has supported me in continuing to audit during this pandemic.

How are you creatively coping?

Wow. I am still figuring out how to cope creatively. I am making sense of a new set of circumstances, including space, technology, and the emotional weight of the daily challenges of this virus (news, shopping and disinfecting, financial stress, etc.). While taking modern and ballet remotely as an auditor, I am creating a modified training foundation. I am hoping to maintain enough strength and flexibility that will enable me to be physically versatile in my creative dance making.

Having my guest modern instructor record a class for us to learn from helps with connecting emotionally to her and our class. Meeting on Zoom is also a plus. She has also welcomed me to contribute feedback and movement ideas online during the creation and rehearsal process of a modified version of the piece she was making with the students. Once I get a bit more settled into my new routine, I hope to begin generating my own improvisational and choreographic work. I do not have access to a studio so I will move in my living room, on my lawn in the warmer weather, and in parks when people are not nearby. My husband is an amateur photographer, and we have a fun history of going for walks where he records me improvising outside.

Lastly, I am re-configuring a project I launched this past year that is about generating conversations in person and online to meet the needs of adult modern, ballet, and improvisational dancers (college-age to 100+). It is open to people from all over the world and is called Dance Community Conversations. Some opportunities and projects have developed out of these meetings. One of them, Dance for the Planet, invites all types of dancers to join in collective movement experiences to improve our communities and the planet.

Since we are currently isolated at home in this pandemic, Dance for the Planet launched weekly Friday Night Dance Parties on Zoom. We put together a playlist on Spotify with input from attendees and dance for a half hour (and longer if the desire is there). People are invited to use costumes, lighting, decor, etc. to make it fun and creative. Our next dance is Friday, April 10th at 7:00pm EST. The plan is it to have a Friday Night Dance Party every week in the month of April. People can learn more by checking out our Facebook group, Dance Community Conversations, or by emailing me at dancecommunityconversations@gmail.com.

What are you most worried about financially?

I am most worried about things getting worse financially and the government not helping people enough. This not only includes artists but the majority of Americans who have already been struggling with health care costs, debt, etc. I am most worried that our country’s leaders are lacking in compassion and empathy for the hurting and suffering citizens of this country and lack the clarity and courage to do the right thing by its people, including me and my husband.

What’s giving you strength or keeping you grounded these days?

What keeps me grounded is daily meditation and prayer and regular connection with emotionally supportive people, including my husband. To balance me out and uplift me emotionally, I listen to meditative music and watch travel videos and old sketch comedy videos on YouTube. I listen to fun music that makes me happy while I go about my day. I reach out to elderly friends and neighbors to find out how they are and if they need anything. I also get out in nature and watch the plants beginning to break ground in our yard for the spring.  Lastly, I have been getting more in touch with how grateful I am for what I have. It is not all of what I want, but I have so much that is helping me get through the day and supporting me in my dance practice.

Any other thoughts, resources or worries you’d like to share?

I hope that this significant pause in our lives helps me deepen further into who I am as a person and inhabitant of this planet where I gain clarity about my life in ways that will serve me and the greater good. I also hope this happens for all of us. We are running out of time in a lot of areas, especially with regards to making sure our planet is habitable for humanity and all living creatures; it’s essential that we elevate our relationship to everything if we are to survive and flourish.

Photo by Rob Davis

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Malinda LaVelle in Taos, NM

How has the coronavirus personally affected your dance practice?

I am in my final semester of graduate school for dance/movement therapy and counseling. My dance/movement therapy internship at a children’s hospital has been put on hold and it is likely I will not be able to return onsite. My school has been incredibly supportive and proactive, developing alternative ways for us to graduate on time. However, I am grieving the sudden loss of patient relationships and a very crucial culminating piece of my education. It is difficult to accept an incomplete, and expensive, graduate school experience.

How are you creatively coping?

Lots of silliness via bouncing, shaking, rocking, and swaying to an abundance of favorite music.

Otherwise, personally, the last few years have been difficult, and my fatigue has been slowly growing. Suddenly, after tucking it away in a small box buried deep down inside me, this fatigue has permission to release and expand. I can feel the echo of the hustle living inside my body, but the fatigue is commanding me to feel relief. That feels like a strange paradox – relief by force. Also, it somehow feels forbidden to feel relief right now – uncertainty and grief do not mix well with it. Anyhow, I am coping by being slow and quiet, and resisting the influx of messages urging me to use this time to get things done, prepare, make a routine, be creative, respond, and stay engaged. In fact, I feel myself disengaging. I feel like a slippery, thick, murky blob. Or maybe more like a barren, dried up field. I do not know. This is my honest experience – I accept it and am working with it.

What are you most worried about financially?

This question causes a flood of overwhelming thoughts and feelings. It is hard for me to articulate. I am worried on a micro and macro level – for myself, for friends, for family, for communities, for countries…

What’s giving you strength or keeping you grounded these days?

1) It may be cliché, but looking at the big mountains out my window – they are symbols of stability for me.

2) Seeing and understanding human resiliency, resourcefulness, and interdependence in a new way.

3) Humor.

4) Trusting myself.

Any other thoughts, worries, or resources you’d like to share?

My thoughts and concerns about so many things change daily, hourly. There is so much to consider. I guess I am inclined to share a couple of quotes. I like quotes. Here are two of them that feel timely. I read them daily:

1) This one comes from a school reading I revisited: “The major problem of life is learning how to handle the costly interruptions. The door that slams shut, the plan that got sidetracked, the marriage that failed. Or that lovely poem that didn’t get written because someone knocked on the door.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

2) This one continues to resurface over and over again: “If you are invested in security and certainty, you are on the wrong planet.” -Pema Chodron

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