Updated: Oct 26, 2020
If there is any central theme emerging out of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, it is change. As artists, we are masters of adaptation. Flexibility, creativity, and adjustment are not just essential for our art-making. These skills leave us well equipped to deal with difficult situations with intentional and effective responses; the coronavirus response is no different. The range of response has been wide. Some artists have entirely pivoted to online work, others have explored new career trajectories and possibilities, while others simply have taken pause inside of a career that often demands its participants to ignore their own needs for rest and rehabilitation. All of these responses are shaping the dance field going forward. These changes are being felt on macro and micro levels everywhere. Dogtown is no exception; as a hub of dance in Richmond, the artists who make up and inhabit the institution are reflecting the realities of the new dance field.
While there has been a huge surge of video and online dance that presents many exciting possibilities, in-person dance and performance remains important to so many artists. Dance is an art form that necessitates human contact. Even in solo work, an audience is needed in order to complete a piece. Without partners, collaborators, audience members, studio go-ers, and the many other roles that exist inside of the broad category of dance, the form begins to feel detached. COVID presented unique challenges to dancers as regulations began to lift. Organizations such as Dogtown were forced to contend with huge questions: how many people can safely be in a room at once? Is contact with the floor ok? What about moving through space? Choreographers were forced to create with a new set of boundaries: with dancers unable to touch, get too close to one another, or move quickly and widely through space, suddenly many traditional choreographic tools or techniques were unavailable. Dancers had to get used to feeling bound, confining their energy to a 6 foot radius. And yet, the art form continues. LaWanda Raines, a member of the Dogtown team, spoke on her response:
My relationship to dance has become more virtual based than ever before. I also teach a hybrid class. Changing to 'no floorwork' for the first few months was interesting for modern. However, it reminded me that I have a whole vocabulary of dance movements that don't go to the floor. The inability to partner changed my recital choreography and led to creative solutions to still get the effect, using fabric as the connecting thread. It has also caused me to reevaluate my personal skillset within the field regarding work and survival, and whether I could continue in the field.
Raines makes a poignant observation that these restrictions actually opened up the realm of possibility for dance vocabulary and creative choreographic response. As dancers, we work inside the body. The body likes patterns; it enjoys ease, familiar language, and good feelings. Restrictions can be powerful tools in stretching our own abilities into new patterns and expanding our personal and artistic range. At the same time, change is not always easy or predictable. Raines makes another point that the field is changing, perhaps in ways that will leave artists feeling unprepared to move forward.
The effects of COVID-19 on the dance field are still unfolding around us. The clear progression towards video work is undoubtedly here to stay, but there is a lot of uncertainty around the future of live performance and in-person dance experiences. If there is any certainty, however, it is that adaptation will continue. While old possibilities are no longer available, new ones have already begun to take place. Dance is happening in communal and outdoor spaces more than ever before. People are re-evaluating their relationship to the field and shifting into roles that more authentically align with their interests. Reliance on institutionalized dance has waned with the abundance of cost-effective and accessible online options for accessing dance. We are all learning and changing, shedding values and traditions that no longer serve the future of our field. Together we are moving into an entirely new dance space, and we are presented with the unique opportunity to intentionally craft it.