When I read about the first COVID-19 case in Ottawa, I was overcome with anxiety: How might this developing pandemic affect myself and the community around me? Like so many others in Ottawa and around the world, I looked for distractions to help cope with this troubling reality. In addition to work, I decided to busy myself with a wide range of activities: writing, exercising, and a variety of crafts. They were almost set in a loop. I also tried to avoid the overwhelming maelstrom of COVID news—of statistics, and graphs, and videos, and photographs. Although these activities may have served as momentary distractions, they couldn’t solve the oppressive feeling of isolation; they were quite solitary.
I knew I needed to find ways to reach back out to the community, to reconnect. I found solidarity and comfort through a couple of key activities, most notably through dance. When attending my first virtual dance class (a Zumba class offered by Dance With Alana via Zoom), I was able to re-engage with familiar faces. When we danced together, I felt grounded and capable.
Moved by the mental and physical restorative power of dance, I decided to get in touch with some Ottawa-based dance companies—Dance With Alana, MOOV Ottawa Dance, Studio X Ottawa Inc., and KV Dance Studio—and start a conversation about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them.
A determined leap into the virtual
With social/physical distancing now in full swing, in-person dance classes are no longer possible. The four dance companies I interviewed share in this reality. Reflecting upon these sudden changes, Alea de Castro—Artistic Director and Co-founder of MOOV Ottawa Dance—admits, “Coping-wise, it’s difficult, to say the least. We don’t really know when we’ll get hired again, as all our work is booked through schools, corporate events, our dance classes and public events, which are not possible anytime soon.”
How have all four Ottawa dance companies responded? They have now entered the virtual realm, offering a variety of classes online. As Alana Hock (of Dance With Alana) reveals, “It has definitely been a time to reinvent my way of giving dance classes. After almost 30 years of teaching in the studio setting, I am now learning how to reach my community through live online classes.” Despite the distance, Alana’s students continue to tune in virtually each week. “I am feeling super grateful for their support at this challenging time.”
Although some dance genres may be challenging to learn at a distance, Alana shares a feel-good example of how her instructors are rolling with the punches: “COVID has certainly put a big pause on most of my partnered swing dance classes. But my talented teachers and I have also been offering new ways for these students to still ‘cut a rug’ from their homes (even if it means that they’re dancing solo for now). Actually, one of my teachers was using a large plant to demonstrate some partnering to the students this week. It was pretty adorable.”
Dance for the community
Nadège and Soul, of Studio X Ottawa Inc., express gratitude for the support offered by their students. For instance, they told me, “One of our former students who is not even taking classes with us at the moment has donated a webcam to help us with the livestream of our classes.” Even in the midst of this crisis, they find a silver lining: “Yes, this pandemic might have showed the bad in some people, but it has for sure also show[n] how far people can go to help each other and how resilient we can all be.”
Kailena Van de Nes, the Owner and Artistic Director of KV Dance Studio, has set up a fundraiser via Plantables. Not only will you be helping out KV Dance Studio, but you’ll also get to add to your garden! Just input the code GARDENWITHKVDS when you purchase a plant.
Ottawa-based dance instructors are also taking action to give back to the community. In addition to leading Street Dance classes via Facebook Live, Alea notes that MOOV Ottawa has been approved to run a fundraiser supporting The Ottawa Hospital: “We ask for any donation amount and 100 per cent of funds directly go towards The Ottawa Hospital COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.” The donation page can be found here.
Community members are also reaching out to help those who may not be able to afford dance classes. As Nadège and Soul of Studio X Ottawa explain, “Some of our students started to buy gift cards, give little donations or pay the regular class pass pricing instead of the reduced virtual pass pricing in an effort to help more people who lost their income due to COVID-19 have access to some of our classes.” For Ottawa’s dance community, the spirit of giving goes both ways.
Dance is social and therapeutic
During this time of social and physical isolation, it is essential to sustain a sense of connectivity and community. Dance can achieve or assist with these aims, as Alana describes: “These classes seem to be bringing a sense of normalcy and much-needed joy during this surreal time in our lives!” Kailena echoes these sentiments: “For the children taking our regular sessional classes, it provides them with a sense of routine, something to look forward to each day, a way to see their friends and dance teacher.” Nadège and Soul also note the importance of conversation: “We also open the meeting 15 minutes before each classes which give people the time to interact with us and/or with each other if they wish to do so.”
This article comes full circle, as I close with a comment made by Alea, on the therapeutic quality of dance: “For Arnaldo [MOOV Ottawa Dance co-founder] and I, music and dance is a major component that’s getting us through this difficult time. It may not be the answer, but it is a nice break from our current reality.”
Ready to dust off and show off those moves?
Dance With Alana: Choose from tap, Zumba, and swing classes. Check them out here.
KV Dance Studio: There’s a wide range of child, adult, and family dance and fitness options, including ballet, tap, acro, and yoga. To find and sign up for child classes, click here, and for adult classes, click here.
Studio X Ottawa is offering various dance and fitness classes, including salsa, Zumba, yoga, pound, and bachata. Register here.