COVID-19 and the Great Divide in Ballet

So recently, a well-known illustrator recently asked me to illustrate a picture of myself during the quarantine. This picture was supposed to be a self-portrait, but with one condition. The idea was to be looking through the outside and onto you quarantined on the inside. Well, I initially said, “Yeah, sure, no problem.” And so I started, but then I realized that while his portrait was from a small window with telephone lines and trash cans outside his window, and how poetic he must look, mine, on the other hand, would just come off as pretentious and privileged. And while I have worked hard for my success, as I illustrated where I lived and how I lived, I realized that this is just not among artists but also among the dancers of the world.

For those who have home studios or rooms dedicated to dancing in their homes, this transition to virtual ballet has been a lot easier. This is an apparent show of privilege, and regardless of the hard work and success your family has amounted, it still is the reality that ballet is an elite art form. Then, if you look at a lot of these professional dancers broadcasting from home, we are getting an intimate look inside their life. Their kitchen counters are granite; their floors are hardwood; there are sweeping cityscape views and works of art that were not mass-produced.

View of a Coronavirus Covid-19 background – 3d rendering

But the majority of dancers are struggling. Most people can’t afford to buy Marley and a barre on a whim and set up a studio. Most people don’t have a home gym inside their home, and for a lot of young dancers, they can’t afford to continue training because of the lack of income coming in from their parents. I am not attacking those who can afford it, I am just stating a fact.

The world is scary, and the world has a lot of uncertainties right now, but one of the big things COVID-19 is doing, is creating art for all and opportunities for young dancers to keep dancing. All of these free Instagram live streams are inspiring and needed, but then it also raises the point: How are you able to train without getting corrections? It makes people think, “Why pay my student’s online class tuition when I can take from all of these amazing teachers and professional dancers for free?” This logic is flawed too. Since live streams you don’t get corrections, you won’t progress as fast. If you stop going to your school, there is a chance that your school will close because of the financial strain. There are a lot of factors and variables just continually changing out there, and for most, everyone is winging it.

But, the truth of the matter is: What we see during this quarantine is the haves and the have nots of the dance world.

We see those teachers who are setting up home setups with three iPads and two computers, students who have built-in studios at home, the intimate insides of one’s home, and so forth. And while ballet is coming together to provide free resources to help, it still does not close the gap for what is going to come next…

Who is going to be able to afford to come back to dancing after months of no income? Who is able to keep training and staying in shape during this time, and who is not? Who is going to keep progressing, or who is going to fall behind? It will divide those who really want this, and those who were doing it for social aspects, or fun aspects. It is going to divide companies with strong endowments and funding and those who were already struggling to stay afloat. It is going to divide ballet by a lot. It is going to define a generation of dancers who might not get employed. It is going to keep changing the way we move forward drastically. And while I don’t have all the answers, and I wish I did, it just makes me wonder what is going to happen next?


4 responses to “COVID-19 and the Great Divide in Ballet”

  1. You just hit the nail on the head!

    Thankfully we bought a used ballet bar 2 years ago for $15 so my daughter could teacher younger dancers. Thankfully our whole family can work right now from the dining room table where our daugther trains 10 inches away from us.

    But, give this a month or 2. Will people with online work, still have online jobs? Will we be fortunate enough to find a job at the gas station or grocery store? Will gas stations be able to afford to keep their doors ope? What will happen to the dancers who had plans to move into companies in the Fall? Will their spots still be there? Probably not? Will these dancers need to stop training so they can help the family pay bills? Are we aware of how many people applied for unemployment just last week because of COVID-19 effects?

    These will be interesting times. What will we do with the trials set before us. I think of Olympian, Louis Zamperini, who went through WWII. His character was shaped through great loss. Greater than what our generation of ballerianas will face. Yet we can learn from history how to persevere and move forward.

  2. I’m just a kibitzer, but I want to thank you for this sensitive & nuanced appreciation of a reality that permeates the arts (& other arenas). No, I don’t have a ready solution. But until we acknowledge the situation, we certainly can’t begin to alter it.

  3. I have 3 cjildten who are ballet students, but only one substitute for a ballet barre, one functional computer, one semi-functional computer, and one room big enough to use for classes. We have two different ballet schools and many conflicting class times. I am also trying to homeschool the children around all these class interruptions. We also have religion classes and online church events. We are overwhelmed with all this, and I am also concerned about safety when a teacher is not actually present and can’t monitor each student very well as well as not having proper equipment or a proper studio. Both schools told us in writing that we are responsible for any injuries. I am not having my children do all the classes. As far as I know they are not taking attendance, but I am concerned about them actually being expected to attend all classes. All my children have had some pain that seems to be coming from doing the classes. In some cases they are skipping some classes for that reason.