As the coronavirus crisis has forced many of us into our homes, we’ve had to find new, inventive ways to engage with our passions. The internet, unsurprisingly, has been the primary tool for connecting arts lovers with cultural content to see them through self-isolation: operas and theatre productions are being live streamed, art exhibitions are being digitised, and endless articles recommending podcasts, films, and reading material are being written. But some artforms are easier to translate online than others. Dance classes, for example, centre around physicality. Taking place in wide open studios free from obstacles, traditional dance classes rely on the physical presence of students, enabling partnerwork and allowing teachers to impart corrections through verbal and sensory feedback. All that is impossible to translate into the virtual realm. Or is it?
Ever since the start of the pandemic, dancers from every discipline have been migrating away from the studio back into their homes to take part in digital dance classes. Conducted over a variety of online platforms – notably Instagram Live and Zoom – many of these offerings have been set up by high-profile dance organisations from across the world, including Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, the Royal Academy of Dance and Gaga People to name a few.
Many have also been instigated by individual professional dancers themselves, such as by a number of performers from the Martha Graham Dance Company (MGDC) in New York. ‘Some of our company members, such as Lloyd Knight and Charlotte Landreau, just took it upon themselves, I don’t think they even coordinated it in the beginning,’ says artistic director Janet Eilber. ‘We [MGDC] immediately embraced it. It’s really a leading light towards what we want to do digitally in the future. We really want to build on what the dancers have started.’ Eilber’s biggest takeaway from the Instagram Live classes is the ability for interaction: ‘Dancers can actually type comments and ask questions as if they were actually learning in the studio. It’s quite different to just following a YouTube video by yourself.’ And it’s not just about learning steps and mastering choreography. ‘Graham is based on self-expression and bringing yourself to the movement,’ she says. ‘It has an additional level of reflection and expression that I think people need right now.’