I grew up in a dance studio. Not in the sense that I learned my most important life lessons in one (although I did, of course), but that my house was also my dance studio. My parents operated a dance school out of our home in New Jersey for more than 30 years. From birth until I graduated 12th grade, the building where I learned how to kick-ball-change was also the place where I did my homework, ate turkey on Thanksgiving and made my bed (sometimes).
So when dancing at home became a necessity at the start of the pandemic, there was a part of it that felt pretty natural. For a moment, I wondered if maybe we had gained something that we didn’t even realize we needed: a dance school without walls. But although the transition to dancing in the living room felt familiar for me, many others have small apartments with roommates, or can’t afford to rent an hourly studio and hope the Wi-Fi holds. Not everyone has a garage or basement that they convert into a dance room. Plus, many dancers just plain dislike virtual dance classes. The result: There are brilliant teachers who aren’t teaching and lifelong dancers who aren’t dancing, and it has left a gaping hole in our precious community.
Perhaps the fact that so many dance artists feel shut out of dance right now is that the magic of dance class has always been about more than just our bodies, the music and the choreography. For many, entering the studio means an escape from their everyday realities. And the time spent between classes can be as vital as the time spent in class. When I think of being at a dance studio, I think of the long hallway at Steps on Broadway, where professional dancers would mix with little girls in leotards and a conversation could stretch for hours. I think of Frank Hatchett’s classes at Broadway Dance Center, when it would get so hot that the mirrors would fog. I even think of the waiting room at my childhood home, where dance moms would (for better or worse) have time to get to know one another as they waited for their little ones to finish. A chat room can never replace a lobby, and in a Zoom class the windows never fog.
I bet if we all paused for a moment we could think of someone in our lives who loves to dance with all of their hearts and doesn’t right now because they miss being “at the studio.” I want those people to know that they are missed, they are important and that there is no shame in not wanting to dance in front of your screen. As we hopefully and cautiously move forward towards reopening safely, I pray that being back in a sweaty, smelly studio will be a triumphant return. We will be together again, and it will be glorious.