Op-Ed: How COVID-19 Has Changed the World of Ballet

Photo+of+a+dance+studio+purchased+from+BigStock.com.

Photo of a dance studio purchased from BigStock.com.

Natalie Kozhemiakin

Envision grand studios equipped with Marley floors, broad mirrors, radiant windows, and a sense of motivation that lingers throughout each room. You can almost smell the sweet scent of bliss in the air, which—as absurd as it sounds—happens to be in this very ballet studio for me. 

Now imagine that won’t experience this again for the rest of the year. 

This is a reality for dancers around the world, struggling to grasp uncertainty about when they will return to dance. 

As a dancer myself, I feel this great sense of loss and frustration in response to the COVID-19 shutdown.

With the spring performance season canceled, summer intensive programs moved online. With the cancellation of in-person classes, the dance world has been dragged into a devastating low. 

In early March when I was told that I would be getting a two-week break, more time than I had taken off from ballet in years. But those two weeks quickly turned into a month, and in the blink of an eye, three months. Now, after four months of not being at the studio, I frequently find myself questioning when I will be able to return to ballet.

Since the March shutdown, our studio, Integrarte, was preparing to perform the ballet Études. With twelve upcoming shows and exciting repertoire to learn, it is fair to say that the whole studio felt a devastating loss. I can vividly recall the disappointment and tears. 

Performing is what we train to do. It is not just our passion, but it runs through our blood, giving us an exhilarating feeling of slight fear and uncertainty while backstage, but serenity while under the luminous stage lights. Losing this ability to perform in front of a live audience, or even dance at a studio, took a heavy toll on each and every one of Integrarte’s pre-professional students.

For the past four months, I have attended virtual ballet classes over Zoom. If there is one thing that this experience has taught me, it is that virtual classes cannot compare to the hands-on experience that is offered at a studio.

The lack of space, lagging music, inability to execute broad movements such as grand allegro, and the lack of adequate materials such as sprung Marley floors are just a few elements that contribute to an unpleasant class.

As much as the teachers work to put in their utmost efforts, it is simply not possible for an online class to compare to the intimate experience of an in-person class.

Needless to say, an in-person ballet class is something that I will never take for granted again.    

During this unprecedented time, everyone’s experience is different, especially when it comes to the arts.

Being part of a small ballet studio, we have not yet seen the economic faults of the COVID-19 shutdown in our environment, but major companies such as American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet have been forced to cancel their spring season.

For companies around the world, the spring performance season is an important time filled with back-to-back performances, where companies make most of their money. This is a time when renowned principal dancers, as well as new additions to the company, get the opportunity to debut in many ballets and choreography.

The New York Times recently reported that due to the cancellation of American Ballet Theatre’s spring season,  “the company estimates that loss of the Met season, along with previously canceled tour performances — in Chicago, Detroit, Durham, N.C., and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates — will cost it $18 million in revenue.”

This is akin to the cancellation of the Olympics for athletes, the article also reported.

Despite these conditions, the dance world has come  together by offering numerous alternatives to live performances—the most popular being the new accessibility to streaming ballet performances online, which has the potential to attract a newer audience. After all, not having to pay a costly amount to attend a show is an attractive offer. 

So this leaves us to wonder, what will the future of ballet be like? 

Will there be more online resources to stream performances? Will virtual ballet classes be a new norm and a more accessible resource for dancers who are not able to attend a studio?

Although there are so many questions—and no one knows for sure what the future holds—it is safe to say that ballet is pushing to continue its legacy of performing in a time where days are spent fully online. Teachers, students, and professional dancers all wish to return to the exhilarating days of rehearsals as soon as possible, but there is no sign of this happening anytime soon. 

With incredible strains on major ballet companies, all we can hope is that the legacy of live performances will not relinquish during this time.