Coronavirus Puts the Dance Industry in Hibernation
A period of reflection and transformation that holds promises of reinvention and of bringing this community together once again
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s daily life, drastically changing the way schools, workplaces and entertainment establishments operate. The performing arts were no different, as events, schools and artistic industries were ordered to close down for business on the 8th of March 2020. Some of these companies have never gone into hibernation, which is proving to be a very difficult period for the artistic community.
Furthermore, the entertainment industry, namely bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and other places of social gathering had to close down and although we are presently not in full lockdown, we are all living in uncertain and unprecedented times.
Although we were all expecting it to happen sooner or later, it all happened so suddenly and conclusively. Dance institutions, educational programs, lectures, rehearsals and performances became just a memory. Seemingly overnight, dancers, teachers, companies, theatres and eager potential audiences were all confronting an unprecedented blankness. “This feels all so negative and I fear for my students in relation to their physical and mental health, their weight and food intake minus their weekly classes and their return to future normality”, explained to me Ingrid Sciberras of Alegria Dance Company. Nothing like this has ever happened, and there is no indication of how long it will last, for our safety we must stay home even if this keeps us away from what we love most.
Wasting little time, the dance community in Malta and Gozo came together through an initiative of Ms Theresa Lungaro Mifsud of The Dance Workshop Academy, who decided to create a Messenger group as a support network where the dance community can share difficulties and discuss new makeshift solutions and most of all console each other. It is important to highlight here that currently the dance community does not have a regulating body. There was a time when there was The Dance Council which I used to form part of for many years. The Dance Council was a statutory entity that represented all dance schools, directors, dance companies and freelancers. The pioneering president was Ms. Tanya Bayona, later followed by Ms. Alison White. It was never easy bringing all the different, varied and independent dance professionals together under one, singular umbrella; the local dance community has always been quite segregated. But throughout the mid 90s and the early years of the 21st century, The Dance Council, had managed to lobby for many national artistic injustices such as the VAT on dance education and artistic performances issues. All this was a success amongst other feats of justice and endeavour. Unfortunately, due to varied symptomatic reasons such as artistic and professional differences together with a growing disinterest, The Dance Council was dissolved. Despite all this, the current situation seems to be bringing us all together again and maybe, why not, will eventually lead to the reinstatement of the Dance Council or some form of representative body.
In response to the social distancing measures imposed, some schools started giving online classes, however this did raise some issues and concerns such as those related to safety from lack of training and supervision limitations. These classes offered a level of hope to our students. They created a form of schedule, continuity, communication and a sense of belonging. The elephant in the room is undoubtedly related to the parents’ newfound financial limitations. The financial struggles brought on by this pandemic and the shift in priorities raises the question whether parents will continue to afford paying for online classes.
Dance companies have received a hard blow by this pandemic. The inability to perform and to run classes has completely revoked all sources of revenue and apart from the obvious financial struggles that come with this, dance companies and their students are also going through mental and emotional turmoil as is everyone else around the globe.
Most dance school directors are extremely worried about the present and future situation and have expressed a need for support as schools were the first to close and probably will be the last to re-open.
On a positive note this situation will revive the appreciation of dance and choreography and once this is all over, we shall all have a different perspective on what studios and stages mean to all of us. The Coronavirus is bringing the dance community back together again – side by side as everyone is experiencing the same sense of isolation and battling with anxiety. It is inspiring us to be more creative – to find new ways of transmitting the beauty of dance through the use of technology. This is completely new territory for all of us. Dance is contact. Dance is synchronization and unity. Dance is body. How can this be experienced virtually? We need to re-invent ourselves!
A virus will not take all this away from us. We can still dance in our bedrooms and living rooms, alone and with our loved ones. We can dance through our imagination and heart. We can participate in dance by watching it until we will can all dance together again on our stages and in our studios. And then there is the hope that the Maltese and Gozitan public will once again support us when all this is over.
Dance is not over, like a cocoon it is undergoing a transformation!