The nation may be slowly emerging from lockdown but the arts have been largely left behind, with no creative solutions for socially distanced dancing on offer just yet. School may look like it can restart in September but for dance students, that now familiar grid of Zoom squares in gallery view may remain the lifeline to their teachers and peers for a while longer.
When all established routines evaporated suddenly in mid-March, CAT zoom classes provided some much needed structure; and, as some parents noted, the dance classes were much faster than regular schools to adapt and evolve. “My dance timetable is the only way I can tell what day it is…” shares Jess, who has been on the CAT scheme for 7 years.
Over three months in and a new kind of routine has set in. Putting yourself on mute to avoid background noise has become a habit, as well as the ‘thumbs up’ gesture for feedback.
Of course there are new challenges to navigate: space is a problem. Not everybody has a garden or vast living space and hitting your toes on the fridge or pirouetting into a sofa is no fun. Families have to communicate, siblings have to cooperate and compromises need to be found to give a dancing family member space as well as undisturbed wifi access for the time of the lesson. “It has made our support of our daughter dancing and her commitment to dance much more explicit”, says CAT mother Helen while also laughing “all the furniture in our front room had to be rearranged giving me an opportunity to clean areas which haven’t seen a vacuum for a very long time!”
Of course we all get Zoom fatigue, and the fact that work, play, school, hobbies, entertainment and downtime are all happening on the same screen is tough. Does CAT still provide the same physical vent away from school life it used to offer before the pandemic? “CAT zoom classes have a different quality from other screen time” Helen believes. The fact that students have to physically prepare the space, change clothes or get their water bottle makes it more active engagement rather than a passive consumption of content.
“There’s something quite profound about training in your living room”, says Jess, “it forces you to really analyse your body and your movement in a new level of detail. I also feel I’m learning more about the industry as a whole as we’ve been lucky enough to have choreographers such as James Wilton, Joseph Toonga and George Williamson join our creative lessons to answer our questions, which has been inspiring.”
Keeping connected is absolutely vital for young people, and the CAT students have been organising Zoom socials, looking out and checking in with each other even more than in usual times. “If anything, the community spirit has grown” says Jess, and Helen believes generating shared experiences with peers has been great for her daughter’s mental health: “To be reminded that she’s part of a separate community outside our family which is her own is especially important at her age.”
Of course no one would ever claim that the transition to online dancing is easy, nor that it is comparable to dancing in a designated space. The students are missing big jumps, live music and the feeling of feeding off of each other’s energy. Jess also misses hopping on a train and travelling to London, “leaving schoolwork behind and escaping into the happy bubble that CAT is.” However, there has been an unexpected upside: “I can now access the midweek classes which were only available to the inner-London students before lockdown. This gives me the opportunity to work with new teachers I wouldn’t have been able to previously!”
Most importantly, the young CAT students are still able to learn, be creative and follow their passion. “Dance has been so beneficial to my mental health by giving me a sense of completion and achievement on days where I may be feeling low” says Jess, summing up her feelings in one simple statement: “Dance for me has been the one constant in these ever-changing times.”