Starinah "Star" Dixon's air fryer has kept her busy in the kitchen. Courtesy Dixon

From Air Fryers to Instruments, These Items Helped Your Favorite Dancers Through a Year of Shutdown

Since last March, dancers have adjusted from studio life to periods of seclusion at home. At a time when human interaction is scarce, the comforting things we surround ourselves with have taken on new importance.

We asked dancers and choreographers to reflect on the items that have brought them joy or a sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a year when many people experienced great loss, it is a privilege to have personal belongings to hold dear.


Nathalia Arja, principal, Miami City Ballet

Arja, a woman with short, curly brown hair, poses with a book by Lysa Terkeurst titled, "It's Not Supposed to Be This Way" She wears an blue camisole and poses in front of a bookshelf.

Nathalia Arja poses with a book that brought her comfort during a challenging time.

Courtesy Arja


"Throughout the pandemic, something that kept me company and brought me a lot of comfort, growth and also healing was the book It's Not Supposed to Be This Way, by Christian author Lysa TerKeurst.

"The way she writes is so simple to understand yet so human. It is like she becomes your friend because of how deeply encouraging she is. The book came at the most fitting time, as it talks about 'Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered.' I absolutely recommend this book, and I finished it with lots of positive, new perspectives."

Kate Wallich, choreographer and director, Studio Kate Wallich

Wallich, a woman with her hair in a low ponytail, stands in her apartment. Two gray marley rolls are laid out beneath her, and there is a white wall behind her. She wears blue socks, dark blue shorts and a grey sweatshirt. She balances in relev\u00e9 with her arms placed in front of her, palms facing outward.

Kate Wallich dancing on the marley she's borrowing from Velocity Dance Center

Courtesy Wallich


"I currently have two rolls of marley laid in my apartment from my first and most beloved home for dance, Velocity Dance Center in Seattle. COVID has sadly closed Velocity's physical space, so I have these two rolls on temporary loan.

"I made my first dances on this marley! Having space to dance in my home has been a game changer for me at this time. Every week, I set a new intention for what I want to manifest on that dance floor."

Harper Watters, soloist, Houston Ballet

Watters, a Black man with short hair, stands in front of a staircase. He wears white sneakers, black sweatpants and a pink sweatshirt. He holds up a white journal and a pen.

Harper Watters recently started journaling.

Courtesy Watters


"RuPaul sent me a journal on New Year's Eve, and it's the most sacred thing I was sent in 2020! Yes, it was in a PR box for the new season of 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' but still! I've never journaled before, and with 2020 being filled with such chaotic emotions, I thought writing down my thoughts, concerns and memories of the day would alleviate some of the stress, and I was right.

"Journaling is allowing me to remember how I felt and why I felt a certain way. It's helping me keep tabs on what I want to focus on in the studio and track my progress. With so many emotionally pivotal moments in 2020, I found it difficult to even start pliés at barre, while trying to navigate thinking about turnout and hip placement with advocacy and empowerment. Putting the noise in my head onto paper has brought clarity to my dancing."

Paloma Garcia-Lee, Broadway actress and dancer

Garcia-Lee, a white woman with short blonde hair, holds a candle labeled "Cade 26" in her hand. She smiles, has bright red nail polish on, and wears a light-colored sweatshirt.

Paloma Garcia-Lee brightens up nights spent at home with her favorite candle.

Courtesy Garcia-Lee


"My favorite candle is Le Labo's Cade 26. This is a splurge, but it's one that has made self-care night so delightful. The fragrance was exclusively made for the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York. It is like you stepped into a luxury hotel right in your own home. What I love about splurge items is that when you use them you really, really enjoy them. I only light it when I'm really feeling like a fun evening in. I keep it on my mantle where the room picks up the fragrance even when it's not lit. Honestly, it's the little things sometimes!"

Tiler Peck, principal, New York City Ballet

Peck, a woman with brown hair, stands in a tendu ballet position with one foot pointed in front of her on the floor. One hand holds her countertop for support and the other is to the side of her in second position. She wears a black jumpsuit and black ballet slippers. She stands on white tile next to a white dog. A brick fireplace is behind her.

Tiler Peck takes a ballet class at home.

Courtesy Peck


"I could not have gotten through quarantine without my daily hydration cream from Youth Corridor! The pandemic has brought a lot of added stress and much uncertainty to our daily lives, so it has been wonderful to know I can count on my daily moisturizer to keep my skin looking as fresh and youthful as possible. Youth Corridor technicians taught me to treat my skin like I would a silk scarf, and that image is something that has totally changed my skin routine for the better."

Morgan Bullock, Irish step dancer and TikTok influencer

Bullock, a Black girl with long hair, dances on a small dance platform. She wears Irish Step Dancing shoes, a black dress, and a skin colored turtle neck. She smiles and dances in front of a lake.

Morgan Bullock dancing outdoors with her Mitchell dance platform

Courtesy Bullock


"The product that has helped me most through this difficult year has been my dance platform, made by Mitchell. I was fortunate enough to have been gifted this platform in May of last year. While it has, of course, helped me make videos to post on my various social media accounts, the platform has also helped me get my mind off of the craziness that was 2020.

"The amplified sound that it helps me create is almost therapeutic, as it really helps me drown out my thoughts and just focus on dancing. The portability of it makes it so easy to take it anywhere I want, whether it be a peaceful spot in the woods, by the water or at a nearby park."

Adji Cissoko, company dancer, Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Cissoko, a Black woman with light brown braids, sits in a chair and plays the kora, a lute-like string instrument made of wood and leather. She wears a red jacket and sits outside on a sidewalk.

Adji Cissoko playing the kora

Courtesy Cissoko


"One of the things I'm super-grateful for during this time is the kora. The kora is a West African string instrument similar to the harp. Growing up, I listened to my dad playing the kora on a daily basis, but I never learned how to play myself. During the last few years, and especially during COVID, I found myself exploring West African culture and its music further and decided it was time to finally learn how to play myself.

"I was supposed to travel to Senegal to visit some of my family, but, unfortunately, because of COVID, I wasn't able to. Every time I play, it makes me think of and feel connected to them. It's a very comforting feeling. It also inspires me to move and explore dance in new ways. A few months ago, I even taught a ballet class using only African music, and it was really fun!"

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J. Alice Jackson, Courtesy CHRP

Chicago Human Rhythm Project's Rhythm World Finally Celebrates Its 30th Anniversary

What happens when a dance festival is set to celebrate a landmark anniversary, but a global pandemic has other plans?

Chicago's Rhythm World, the oldest tap festival in the country, should have enjoyed its 30th iteration last summer. Disrupted by COVID-19, it was quickly reimagined for virtual spaces with a blend of recorded and livestreamed classes. So as not to let the pandemic rob the festival of its well-deserved fanfare, it was cleverly marketed as Rhythm World 29.5.

Fortunately, the festival returns in full force this year, officially marking three decades of rhythm-making with three weeks of events, July 26 to August 15. As usual, the festival will be filled with a variety of master classes, intensive courses and performances, as well as a teacher certification program and the Youth Tap Ensemble Conference. At the helm is Chicago native Jumaane Taylor, the newly appointed festival director, who has curated both the education and performance programs. Taylor, an accomplished choreographer, came to the festival first as a young student and later as part of its faculty.

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July 2021