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?

A BALLET EDUCATION’S MAGAZINE

Is Corona Virus the End of Ballet?

Corona Virus… our best friend. With the recent pressure in the world of academics urging institutions to close down for the next 30 days, ballet is slowly taking suit. The School of American Ballet just announced they will stay closed until April 20. PNB just canceled the rest of their repertory for March, and the school is on hiatus. 

(https://www.pnb.org/aboutpnb/health-update/) 

What does this mean? While most small schools can’t afford to close, neither can most major schools and professional schools (schools attached to companies). We keep waiting for YAGP to cancel the Finals. And we keep waiting for other competitions to follow.

While everyone is encouraging most major cities to self-quarantine in an attempt to stop the spread of the novel virus, it would cripple the world of ballet financially. Well, let’s be honest, with the stock market plunging into doom with little to no hope, most major private or endowment contributions to ballet will end. This means most companies won’t be hiring anytime soon. Not to mention that ticket sales would be non-existent. If we urge ballet schools to cancel their summer intensives and close down for the remainder of the season, we are explicitly saying there will be no new hires for the upcoming season. 

While the virus isn’t to be taken lightly, we need to ensure we understand what we are asking of these major institutions when we ask them to cancel summer courses and refund our money. What we are asking is to bankrupt these organizations for the 2020-2021 season, and possibly all the way into the 2022-2023 season, meaning we understand that there won’t be jobs for those kids right now who are ages 17-20. 

If the world demands that we close schools with over 250 students, we are asking these historic and prestigious companies to lose a large source of their financial stability with both year-round and summer intensive enrollment. Ballet schools support ballet companies, who employ dancers, executive staff, musicians, theater labor and numerous others. So if we are asking these schools to close and cancel, we are creating a substantial financial burden and deficit for these non-profit arts organizations.

The spreading of this virus isn’t to be taken lightly. I’m not saying go out and stock up for the apocalypse, but watching and hearing the stories from Italy are heartbreaking.

So if the world demands that we close summer courses and pull performances, we are going to have to shift our focus to figuring out ways on how to help ballet recover financially and supporting those kids who no longer will be candidates for jobs. This would mean that the generation ages 14 and under, would be the next group to have stable employment in ballet. We are asking to look over an entire group of kids for the sake of the spreading or further mutations of the virus. 

Even watching my students who were slated to go to Royal Ballet’s Spring Intensive have their dreams crushed this morning was tough. But obviously, the ramifications of this is more important. As the news keeps reporting rising cases, creating fear and concern among parents, dancers, and the ballet community at large, I keep asking myself… why are we still hosting competitions that are encouraging travel in general? 

So, if parents really want to cancel summer intensives, or they want these institutions to cancel, for the sake of health, safety, and concern of all, we do have to realize there are substantial ramifications to this. 

With ballet schools in the Seattle area closing, academic institutions closing, does this translate that smaller private schools will need to do the same? With the lack of training, or the lack of incoming tuition coming in, will it ultimately bankrupt these dance studios as well? 

Please be careful when you are asking these major institutions for your money back, because it means we are asking to bankrupt ballet. PNB is asking ticket holders to donate their tickets as a way to keep the ballet company running.

Just remember, that ballet is a fragile ecosystem, and if one part of it shuts down, the entire ecosystem collapses.

Interesting read: Ballet after WWII : https://www.britannica.com/art/ballet/Ballet-after-1945

Royal Ballet School Cancels Spring Intensive & Other News

As the World Health Organization just announces that the COVID-19 VIRUS is officially a pandemic, the Royal Ballet School cancels its Spring Intensive, just days before international students are set to leave to self-quarantine leaving dozens of hopeful young dancers devastated. This is just a day behind many Ivy League Universities closing for the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, with Italy’s mandatory shutdown, students in Italy are left without ballet until at least April 4. Teachers across the world are now posting home videos to help teach their students.