‘Social Disdancing’ is just one of the many unusual expressions that have been added to our everyday vocabulary in recent weeks. Since efforts were intensified to curb the global spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), we have become familiar with countries being on lockdown, adhering to social distancing, and complying with requests to self-isolate or quarantine. The reality of a pandemic and the critical need for personal protective equipment (PPE) is receiving unparalleled attention during the unprecedented outbreak.
This is new terminology for an unnerving new world.
Life under lockdown is predominantly characterised by the suspension of our normal routines, enforced by government guidance to “stay at home and away from others” (also known as social or physical distancing). It is a time of immense uncertainty for everybody and the repercussions on physical health, mental health, incomes, education, careers — indeed, the socio-economic status of entire countries — are undeniable.
Under normal circumstances, dance is part of who I am. I teach ballet students. I write about dance performances. I take class, thriving in a studio with like-minded individuals and time to dedicate to myself.
Whenever any aspect of my life feels uncertain, dance becomes increasingly important to me.
Under the current abnormal circumstances, schools, studios, gyms, theatres and countless other venues and businesses are closed indefinitely. But dance is still part of who I am. And times are categorically uncertain. So, I’m dancing through this crisis. At home. And I’m not alone because the wonderful world of dance has earnestly embraced social disdancing.
Social Disdancing is dancing alone, together
I have the skills to set myself a ballet barre and some compact, low-impact centre exercises. But being forced to limit my dancing experience to what I can achieve alone, at home, has really reinforced to me how valuable taking class from someone else is.
Taking class is routine for dancers, so I’m not alone in this. Not really. Dancers everywhere are recognising just what a privilege it is to be able to respond to someone else’s energy, choreography, and advice.
As a workaround, we are dancing alone together by connecting virtually in real-time. This means we can hear and see other dancers in the same predicament as us, and find inspiration in their movement and methods.
My favourite online ballet classes for getting through this strange situation are taught by uplifting personalities who take a barre-focused approach, use engaging music, and actively coach clean technique.
Social Disdancing with Sander Blommaert: Stay Strong and Dance On
Sander Blommaert is a former first artist of The Royal Ballet and a Royal Ballet School qualified ballet teacher who teaches vocational students at Elmhurst Ballet School in Birmingham. He also provides holiday classes and private coaching through his own business, Blommaert Ballet and Toning.
Sander is using his considerable knowledge to keep his Instagram followers strong and dancing on.
He teaches an hour-long Intermediate level ballet class, consisting of a technical barre and strength-building balancing exercises. Class is followed by a 15-minute guided stretch.
Sander is very motivating, provides careful corrections and sets logical exercises that allow dancers to concentrate on refining their technique. This makes his classes ideal for vocational students but accessible enough for those with less experience to benefit too.
Join Sander for class at 5pm (BST) Monday to Friday, live on Instagram. Each class is available for 24 hours in his Instagram Story.
Classes are free but Sander is fundraising for two charities, so donations are welcomed.
Social Disdancing with Louise Bennett: Kitchen Ballet
Louise Bennett is a London-based ballet teacher, rehearsal director, choreographer, and company manager. She trained at The Royal Ballet School and danced with the Norwegian National Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet and English National Ballet.
A guest teacher at Rambert School, London Studio Centre and the BalletBoyz Dancers Course, Louise is also a regular teacher of open classes at Danceworks, Pineapple Studios and Central School of Ballet.
Louise’s online classes, taught from her kitchen, are just as dance-y as her in-person ones but devised to fit into a much smaller space while we are all dancing from home. Her enjoyable choreography, top tunes and helpful technique tips will keep dancers of all abilities on their toes.
Multiple Intermediate level classes are being provided by Louise each week, and a Beginner level class too.
Class schedules are released weekly. Intermediate classes are generally on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings (10am – 11.15am BST) and Wednesday evenings (6.15pm – 7.30pm BST). Beginner class tends to be on Tuesday or Thursday evenings (6.15pm – 7.30pm BST).
Classes are donation-based and delivered live on Instagram.
Social Disdancing with Patricia Zhou: Get your En–Dehors-Phins going
Patricia Zhou (pronounced “Joe” as the “Zh” is a “J” sound in Chinese) is a graduate of the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. As a Prix de Lausanne 2011 prize-winner, she received an apprenticeship with The Royal Ballet aged just 17. She went on to dance with Staatsballett Berlin and Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project.
Teaching online from her plant-and-art-filled apartment in Los Angeles, Patricia loosely bases her classes on the Russian Vaganova technique. She also includes the elements that have most benefited her throughout her varied training and professional experiences.
For her Intermediate/Advanced class (which is more of an Advanced/Professional level), Patricia gives beautiful combinations that test our (and sometimes her own!) mental and physical agility while celebrating the joy of movement. Her musicality is always ‘en pointe’ and the pleasure she takes in dancing — fused with her constructive advice on technique and positive approach to life — definitely helps get our ‘en–dehors-phins’ going.
The Beginner level class starts with a full-body warm-up before turning to ballet proper. For complete newcomers to ballet, my advice is to do what you can and simply enjoy watching and listening to Patricia.
Join Patricia for Intermediate/Advanced level class daily at 6pm (BST) and Beginner level class on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8.30pm (BST).
Organisational Offerings: The Show Must Go Online
The arts have never been more accessible than they are right now.
With theatres closed and performances postponed indefinitely, arts organisations are offering inspiring and entertaining content free of charge. From watching full-length productions online to participating in virtual workshops or joining company classes taught by our favourite performers — we are truly spoilt for choice.
Arts organisations the world over are clamouring to remind us of their essential role in our lives by providing all this free content, but they need our support if they are to survive the current crisis. Please do donate to them if you can.
Listed below are just a few organisations that are encouraging everyone to get dancing remotely, and making it possible to enjoy an evening out at the theatre without leaving your sofa.
Sadler’s Wells: Digital Stage
Sadler’s Wells is sharing a diverse programme of full-length dance performances and dance-along family workshops online while its live stages are dark.
Royal Opera House: Our House To Your House
The Royal Opera House is providing newly curated online content for the culturally curious. Treats include performances, documentaries and educational material.
Northern Ballet: Pay As You Feel Digital Season
Northern Ballet is presenting a season of unmissable dance on screen. The line-up includes a dance film, a new ballet for children, full-length productions and exclusive highlights.
New Adventures: Reel Adventures
Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures is updating its social channels daily with activities suitable for the whole family and exclusive digital content.
Company class has been opened up to the public for the first time ever. Classes are shown live on Instagram and led by inspiring dance artists including Ashley Shaw and Liam Mower.
English National Ballet: ENB At Home
English National Ballet is remaining committed to its belief that ballet is for everyone, everywhere by giving audiences access to online entertainment, inspiration and classes.
Highlights include Company class (Advanced/Professional level classes taught by artistic director, and stunning lead principal dancer, Tamara Rojo from her kitchen) and Wednesday Watch Parties (never-before-seen, full-length recordings of Company performances are premiered on Facebook and YouTube on Wednesday evenings).
Creation In Isolation
The need to stay at home means many people have found themselves with more time on their hands. For creative folk, new projects are a way to keep occupied, inspired and connected.
The Art of Distraction
Artists are sketching, doodling, drawing, and painting their way through the confusion of the global pandemic and the boredom of living under lockdown.
These artistic endeavours are filling social media with some much-needed colour and respite from the constant coronavirus news coverage. In addition to accepting commissions, many artists are creating surprise pictures for their followers — and lots of the inspiration for this artwork is coming from the dance community.
Dancers and artists seem to have a mutual respect for the art of dance and the graceful lines and shapes used to capture a dancer’s form. Perhaps this explains why arty people are distracting themselves by drawing dancers!
In my experience, this method of distraction leads to delight! Being gifted drawings of our dancing selves (including the doodle of me at the top of this post by talented illustrator Gaia Leandri) is a lovely reminder of our enduring connection to dance and art.
Ballet Papier: Be Part. Be Proud. Be Positive.
Ballet Papier is a Barcelona-based decorative arts brand that is built on a passion for dance, art and lifting others up. Since lockdown became the new normal, co-creators Berenice and Ambar have been encouraging the global Ballet Papier community to stay at home but also stay united and positive.
I think we all agree that maintaining a sense of togetherness and optimism has never felt more important so the brand’s followers are being treated to lots of Ballet Papier resources and ideas to help them enjoy being creative and connected. Berenice and Ambar’s most recent efforts include collaborating with me to devise and write social media challenges inspired by International Dance Day (celebrated annually on the 29th April).
Social Disdancing: Overcoming Online Overwhelm
This pandemic has forced our lives online. Before COVID-19 we straddled both physical and virtual domains, using technology to supplement in-person connections. Now, in the midst of a lockdown, it can feel like technology is defining how we experience ourselves and each other.
Undeniably, technology is uniting us in wonderful ways. The dance community has collectively applied the creativity, resilience and adaptability that the art of dance instils to make the best of this situation.
Social disdancing is proving to be a lifeline.
But typing and tendus can only do so much to alleviate the uncertainty of our world right now. Indeed, it’s important to recognise that the worldwide web is an overwhelming place to be because it reflects — amplifies? — the turbulence of the real world.
As everyone rushes to share classes and content and conversations online, we risk adding to the overwhelm. We might become weighed down by a pressure to participate, produce, experience and consume.
Taking an active approach and preserving my interest in the world is definitely helping me to adapt to our dramatically transformed way of life. But so is remembering that I can put my devices down and turn notifications off. We don’t have to look at rolling news, view all the content, or participate in every class or virtual gathering.
Accept that there is a need for some digital distancing during this time too.
Social Disdancing: The Future
The current crisis is having a profound impact on how we all live, and will continue to do so after lockdown is lifted. Rather than wondering when life will go back to normal, ″where do we go from here?″ is the question that everyone is having to come to terms with.
The future is always unknown; that’s what makes it terrifying and exciting in equal measure. Fundamentally, it is true that the only certainty in our lives is uncertainty.
For now, I’m focusing on the certainty that I will keep dancing on, and that, together, we can go the distance.
Georgina Butler is a journalist, a dance writer and a dance teacher who specialises in teaching classical ballet. She previews and reviews productions, writes features and interviews people from the world of dance.