5, 6, 7, 8. As I walk past the curtains onto the huge stage, the warmth of the bright lights hits my face; steps are perfectly synchronized with those around me as I make my way to the starting poses. I feel as though the rapid beating of my heart can be heard by the audience and I take deep breaths to steady the excitement rushing through my body. Then all thoughts are washed away when the music bursts through the speakers and we spring into life.
This was the feeling that I, along with many other dancers all around the world, have been missing since the beginning of the rollercoaster that is Covid-19. The dance community along with other indoor activities have been tirelessly navigating the countless lockdowns and changing restrictions. During the fall of 2020, when restrictions were unpredictable, dance studios were opening for a short amount of time, but then quickly shut down; it was a seesaw of lockdowns. Now that two years have passed and the majority of regulations have been lifted, dance competitions and rehearsals are starting to return to their former glory.
Prior to Covid-19, dancing at a local studio mainly consisted of training in studio after school and on weekends, having rehearsals and showcases at a theatre, and attending master classes and conventions. If you were part of a competitive program, there’s even the exciting factor of competing against other dancers from different studios at competitions. The atmosphere created at competitions is one that is special and welcoming.
“It was really familial and everyone from different studios were talking together…it was chaotic but in a good way,” said Ava, a dancer at a Burnaby studio.
But all of that changed in March of 2020. Lockdowns along with federal and provincial mandates caused dance competitions to shut down. Along with regular school, dance studios initially had to close and halt their in person activities and move to online learning.
However, completing school assignments on a home computer could not compare to attempting a dance class at home. Dance teachers would host Zoom calls that students would have to log in to. Dancers had troubles practicing in the limited free space they have at home. The switch to online turned out to be disastrous for many who frequented the studio.
“When we first went online, my mental health got really bad because I wasn’t dancing in person and I didn’t have enough space to dance,” Ava comments. She felt as though doing online dance classes led to the loss of her “outlet”.
As 2021 rolled around, some restrictions were lifted, and studios were eventually allowed to reopen. Dancers were finally allowed to practice as a team. If there were dancers and choreographers working together, this meant that competitions could come back as well, but there is always a catch when it comes to the pandemic.
The biggest change wasn’t that we were required to wear masks and social distance, but it was the total lack of an audience, adjudicators and even other studios. Studios had to go in one at a time so dancers weren’t able to interact with their competitors and have the interactions that made competition special. Instead of performing for a live, cheering audience and listening to the judges give advice on stage, dancers had to perform in front of a camera and its operating crew. Filmed competition pieces from the participating studios were then sent to the adjudicators to comment on and the results were posted online or live streamed back to the studios. Because of this factor, dancers such as Ava felt that their performance and motivation was lost.
“That was really awkward, like the energy in the theatre when you’re performing was so much harder to work off of,” said Ava. “It kind of made me lose a little bit of my love for dance.” She says she questioned what the point of competing even was with all the changes that had been implemented.
Teachers and dancers alike were delighted to hear that competitions were returning to normal this year. Ava, along with her studio, had recently attended two local competitions—The One Dance Experience, The View Dance Challenge and Synergy Dance Competition—competing in various categories and taking home multiple wins. Those were the first competitions in two years that have come close to delivering the full experience. Masks were no longer required and there were zero social distancing limits. The lift on capacity restrictions allowed for a live audience and judges to be present and watching in the theatre. Backstage, dancers from many different studios were cheering each other on. We were giving each other the energy that was missing during the height of the pandemic.
“Everyone was just so happy to be there. They were like ‘good job’ and ‘do you need help with anything?’” Ava said, talking about how people were supportive of each other during her time at the competitions. “The support] was so much more than it was before.”
After persevering through the pandemic, I think I speak on behalf of most dancers when I say that I will never take competitions and practices for granted again.
Cover image credit: Piqsels