Miami dance community’s contagion-induced, existential crisis

Written By Sean Erwin
April 20, 2020 at 8:34 PM

Dance NOW! Miami’s Allyn Ginns Ayers thinks the online rehearsal experience can’t replace the realities of the practice studio. (Photo courtesy of Chris Freeman)

When the rapid spread of COVID-19 vacated performance halls, it attacked Miami’s economic ecosystem of artistic activity. Within the dance community, as with many others, performers and organizations saw anticipated revenues evaporate in a matter of hours – and this in an industry dominated by 1099s.

For Brigid Baker, choreographer and artistic director of brigid baker wholeproject, no arena in society better illustrates the fragility of our economic ecosystem than that of artists, “in terms of symbiosis, group gathering and interconnected reliance.”

“Our studio supports the company and the arts community, and vice versa. The studio operates on income from classes, rehearsals, and rentals,” she said.

Baker said this crisis has offered an opportunity to rethink how the community supports its arts activities.

“There must be an extraordinary moment of reflection to determine a path in this new reality. It is not business as usual, and we should none of us behave as though it is,” cautioned Baker. “We need a moment of reflection to reorganize our society … We are being asked on every level to reassess our value system and reorganize our understanding of how things grow and are sustainable.”

Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami lost “nearly $15,000 in revenues that we had been counting on to help us get through the remainder of the season,” said Jennifer Kronenberg, the company’s artistic director. “And two of the performances had fundraising initiatives built in, so the projected loss is even greater.”

In the immediate aftermath, the company’s first aim, she said, was to provide dancers with living stipends to bridge the gap of the shutdown, “because independent contractors were not eligible for unemployment benefits … Now, the rules have changed and they are able to apply and receive emergency benefits.”

They can also apply for help through funds such as Artist Relief, which offers $5,000 to qualifying unemployed artists in need.

“So it makes much more sense for them to explore these options first, and we have strongly encouraged them to do so,” Kronenberg said.

Chloe Freytag is a dancer with Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami. (Photo courtesy of Yanni de Melo)

With these new alternatives available, she added, Dimensions Dance has reassessed its goals: “We have decided to reserve our fundraising efforts (which under the escalating circumstances, we really don’t feel ethically comfortable launching right now) for later on, aimed at helping get the organization back on its feet when this is all over.”
Ruby Issaev, executive director of Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida in North Miami Beach, made the point that lost dance revenues are not the only issue that companies are facing.

“Ballet is a visual art. Dancers need to be in shape, taking daily classes, and this quarantine is keeping every one stalled. No class, no rehearsals,” she said.

Many companies are having to make do by continuing classes virtually and producing digital content.

But that has its limits.

For Kronenberg, restrictions on public assembly mean that dance companies cannot function any longer as companies – even online: “We had initially thought about livestreaming rehearsals in lieu of the [live] lab performances, but the most recent social distancing mandates prevent us from getting together as a group in the studio.”

Dimensions Dance Theatre dancer Chloe Freytag worries that the industry cannot survive – much less thrive – through webcam performances.

“The trickiest thing about these cancellations and quarantine is that our work can’t be done from home,” she said. “This means unexpected and rapid unemployment with few available resources or plans in place to keep ourselves paid.”

Freytag added how the loss was felt not only financially but emotionally: “As artists, what keeps us mentally sane is our ability to express, to move and channel our emotions physically into our art. At home, we have very little space to express our bodies in that same way, and are definitely feeling the slight depression that kicks in as a result from being stagnant. Our bodies need to move.”

For dancer Allyn Ginns Ayers, who is rehearsal director of Dance NOW! Miami, the online rehearsal experience can’t replace the realities of the practice studio.

Pioneer Winter is artistic director of the Pioneer Winter Dance Collective in Miami Shores. (Photo courtesy of Mitchell Zachs)

“Ensemble dance, and especially in a small company like ours, is so inherently social, and that’s difficult to achieve in social distance. When I was taking class yesterday in my bedroom using my dresser as a barre, it was suddenly clear by omission how much I usually feed off the energy of my fellow dancers.”

Pioneer Winter – dancer, choreographer and artistic director of the Pioneer Winter Dance Collective, also questioned the effectiveness of online meeting platforms as an effective replacement for moving bodies in a physical room.

“If it’s just about being together, Zoom is fine, but if it’s about finetuning dance technique or excavating a particular moment from a dance phrase, Zoom does not solve that problem,” he said.

Of course, even after the problem of shuttered performances is finally over, the challenges might not be. In addition to financial, emotional and physical worries, there’s concern about the future.

Said Issaev: “We do not know if audiences will feel confident coming back to the theaters soon.” is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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