Ballet dancers around the world have turned their homes into mini ballet studios, but imagine yourself preparing for a triple pirouette to dash straight into your office.
Some students are fortunate enough to live 15 minutes from their studio where they can work with their teachers in person – 6 feet away with a mask. Other dancers have no choice but to continue the ballet virtually from their cramped rooms.
For Sahara Marquez, a 14-year-old aspiring ballet dancer, training from her home in Tijuana, Mexico, is the only option. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sahara and her mother crossed the border daily for an hour and a half to her ballet studio in San Diego. She hasn’t returned to the studio since the March shutdown.
“[The studio is] what I miss the most, ”Sahara said via a Zoom interview. “Staying in my room doing ballet is good, but it’s not the same.
Egle Spokaite, a Sahara ballet teacher at the Ballet Institute in San Diego, told Zoom that online classes through the platform can be effective with good preparation. Spokaite helped Sahara transform her bedroom into a mini ballet space with marley flooring, the flexible vinyl flooring needed to prevent injury, and a ballet barre.
Sahara said she spent hours every day in the corner of her bedroom working on the technique. Her dream is to one day become a professional ballet dancer.
“I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else,” Sahara said.
Students like Sahara who do not live near their ballet studios experience limits in their training.
As a predominantly European art form, the world of classical ballet faces a constant problem of under-representation and diversity. Rachel S. Moore, president and CEO of the Music Center, said via Zoom that the problems stemmed from income disparities, access to good ballet training and the lack of role models on stage for children of color. There is a lot of work to be done, she stressed, and the pandemic is only exacerbating the situation.
“The world of classical dance is not at all representative of our community at large,” Moore said. “We, as an art form, need to be relevant to the 21st century, telling the whole story and not just the singular story of the past. “
In Mexico, Sahara’s mother said the nearest professional ballet formation is a three-hour drive south of their place of residence. So, for aspiring dancers like Sahara who are looking for serious ballet training, it is necessary to cross the border. Sahara and her mother have been going to San Diego since the age of 8, she said, and many of her peers in Tijuana must do the same.
“In Mexico there was a lot of technical stuff that we were lacking,” Sahara said. “We wanted to know more – if there was anything other than ballet in Mexico.”
Although Sahara receives the pre-vocational training she sought from her teachers in San Diego, she is not able to practice the same at home.
With online lessons, all a dancer can do at home is bar work, which includes the basics, alignment, and basic technique. But to perform turns, big jumps or combinations of moves, you need to be in the studio, said Spokaite.
“If there is space, there is the freedom to move. If there’s no space, then it’s static, ”Spokaite said.
“The dynamic of the dancer is one of the most important things.”
Sahara has stated that it has encountered various technical issues with the Zoom courses. The video often freezes and other times the music cuts out, she said. On a few occasions during the flamenco lesson, she and another student could not hear the music and had to base their dance on the movement of their teacher’s hand who was applauding. As they started to dance, the teacher asked them why they were still standing. “We don’t hear anything,” Sahara exclaimed.
Sahara said she misses the practical physical corrections she receives in the studio. Many exercises, such as jumps and turns on the ground, need to be simplified because the teacher can only make corrections verbally on the screen.
“It’s not something you can fix visually,” Sahara said. “It has to be physical – the teacher puts your arm up or down.”
Spokaite currently has three Mexican students, including Sahara, who are taking classes through Zoom. She said she noticed students unable to go to the studio had emotional health issues, explaining how students often experience emotional problems missing out on the social aspect of ballet, which can affect their learning and ability to absorb informations.
“We’re all humans, and these emotional waves teachers can feel,” Spokaite said. “I would like to help more, but I cannot because of this situation.
Even for students who have access to a studio, it’s not easy to get ballet training through social distancing. Ballet businesses are struggling as some young dancers lose focus and interest. Sara Viale and her husband own Ballet Arte in Solana Beach, Calif., And she said they have lost around 80% of their students since March. Only the most serious students are willing to stick with online training, Viale said in a Zoom conversation.
“Not everyone has a mansion, not everyone has a lot of computers, not everyone has the opportunity to be on Zoom,” Viale said. “And as with every activity, not everyone does it with their heart, with their passion, so when there was no more studio, no more ‘teacher with the whip’ in front of them, it was too much. difficult to manage.”
For the more serious students, said Viale, she and her husband decided to open the studio for private lessons. They keep all doors and windows open, use air purifiers and sanitize the studio several times a day, she said.
“We are lucky in the sense that in other places of the world these things are not possible,” Viale said. “Once their lessons were over, they couldn’t go to the studio anymore, that was it.
Russian ballet dancer Tamara Bobkova, 15, is one of Viale’s students who is lucky enough to come to the studio for 2-hour private lessons once a week.
“Although teachers are still only able to give corrections verbally, it is helpful that Tamara can see her teacher’s reactions immediately in the studio,” said her mother, Alyona Bobkova.
She recognizes her daughter’s privilege to be in the studio.
“We are very lucky,” said Bobkova. “I know a lot of his friends who live in different states or different countries who don’t have this opportunity.”
Aside from her private lessons, Tamara converted their family’s condo living room into her ballet space for Zoom lessons. Her ballet barre is a black shelf built into the wall and she has two computer screens – one where she can see the teacher and herself, and the other where she can see the whole class.
But practicing at home and practicing in the studio are completely different experiences. When Tamara arrived at the studio for her first private lesson in April, Bobkova said Tamara felt dizzy and overwhelmed by the large space, ballet bars, floors and proper mirrors. She couldn’t execute her turns the way she could at home.
Teachers and students do their best, said Bobkova, but practicing ballet at home is just not the same as in the studio.
“It’s hard to make this beautiful art virtually, and teachers can’t even express a third of their emotions because they see how children struggle from afar on Zoom,” Bobkova said. “They feel completely helpless. “
Spokaite said the most difficult aspect of educating a young dancer during the pandemic is not being able to happen. On stage, there is a special feeling and vibration of the air, she said, that cannot be felt otherwise. For Sahara, acting is the most enjoyable part of the ballet, and she said she hopes to get back on stage as soon as possible.
“She’s got a strong character, she’s a fighter,” Spokaite said. “She’s doing her best. “