As a teacher of dance history, I’d like to think that to most dance students the school is still considered a safe place. Up until now, ‘safe’ meant not only providing the space for experimentation, but also creating the room for possibilities that will enable transformation according to the will of each student. History, after all, is the space of the emergence of possibilities embodied in subjectivities, both individual and collective. With the arrival of Covid-19 in our lives, ‘safety’ has been transformed into something clinical – as we are all exposed to the threat of being infected – compromising not just the idea of ‘together’ but also altering the very notion of possibility within the dance field. Nothing will be the same again, cried many professionals, now facing the highest rates of unemployment in decades.
This is not only a fear: it’s a fact that has an enormous effect on dance educators when I think of the graduates and their narrowing prospects, due to the pandemic. What is out there for them? The great unknown, undeniably, but without the excitement that they could finally go chasing their dreams. Fear, most definitely, but one that pulls them down instead of making them trust their instincts – as they will be told to do, innumerable times. A continuous paradox of imperatives demanding students to be always adaptable and versatile, even in the most difficult times: be malleable, strong, sensitive, gracious, fearless, dazzling, daring, winning, a fully grown individual. A litany of stereotypes, if not binaries, that leave no space for an in-between alternative. And now? No prospects. No future. In what ways might their experience differ from an older generation already doomed by austerity measures, neoliberalism and political conservatism?
I had the chance to interview five of my recent students, to talk about their fears and dreams – as it is only anticipated from people of their age. Eugenia, Aristea, Fenia, Ioanna – and Stali, who has only sent me some written comments – are five promising dancers, in their early twenties, whose graduation coincided with the unprecedented global crisis. For years now, many generations have been confronted with dystopian scenarios about the future, but theirs might be more like waking up in a nightmare. Is there any room left for hope? Their disarming honesty leaves no room for excuses. Where my generation failed – the moment of our breakthrough coincided with a major economic crisis back in 2008, leaving us with rancour where there were once high hopes – their fear isn’t primarily about professional doom and the shortage of possibilities. When Fenia says ‘I fear that I might not be able to dance again,’ she wonders if she would be able again to achieve a moment of belonging, to reach for and support the other, to be creative and try the limits of collective creativeness. When I hear them talking, I think of their will to actualise the many possibilities dance has to offer, I understand their priority to share first, to achieve second. So, with dance among the activities that needs to be restrained because of Covid-19, their crisis seems both existential and real.