Every August for the past five years, Beach Sessions Dance Series has been an exciting fixture on the sands of Rockaway Beach in Queens, NY. The festival brings contemporary-dance luminaries to share their work through free, outdoor site-specific performances, all while raising environmental awareness through beach cleanups and other collaborative programming. But as coronavirus began to decimate the plans of other summertime dance festivals, it might have seemed inevitable that Beach Sessions would also be forced to take the year off.
Having watched the video-sharing platform become an integral part of movement artists' creative practice in quarantine, producer and organizer Sasha Okshteyn imagined a Beach Sessions in which the app replaced the shore as a venue for innovative, site-responsive dance. She recruited major dancemakers—namely, Moriah Evans, Jack Ferver, Kayla Farrish, Loni Landon, Gerard & Kelly, Pam Tanowitz, Katrina Reid and Gillian Walsh—to devise one-minute movement scores.
Today, July 30, those scores premiered on TikTok @beachsessionsdanceseries (and on Instagram @beachsessions_rockaway), under the hashtags #dancechallenge and #beachsessions. Dancers everywhere are encouraged to learn them and post their own versions of the dances to the app.
Though artists will interpret the scores in their own geographic locales, "The work is still site-responsive in that we asked the choreographers to respond to a new site: a WEBsite," Okshteyn notes. The scores themselves are as widely varied as you'd expect from the range of participating choreographers; their only requirements were to keep the videos around 60 seconds each, and to film vertically.
Beach Sessions might just be the first major dance presenter, in the age of coronavirus, to move intentionally onto TikTok in lieu of a "normal" season. Canceling this year's festival was never on the table, according to Okshteyn. "As a presenter, I don't feel like I need to have the same structure every year," she says. But she believes that this year's iteration isn't really such a dramatic departure from what Beach Sessions has always represented. "Every year, our mission has been to bring significant, beautiful dance to the community by having companies perform for free on the beach," she says. By expanding to a huge, widely accessible platform like TikTok, anyone around the world who wants to can now be a part of that community.
While Beach Sessions' additional focus on preserving the natural beauty of the Rockaways is on hold for the time being, "Right now taking care of ourselves is a priority, too," Okshteyn says. "One way to do that is to create fun movement sequences that help you express yourself and get out of your body."
"I don't exactly expect them to," she adds, "but it would be amazing if these sequences go viral. My hope is that people from California to Iowa to Hong Kong see this pop up on their TikTok and want to join the challenge because of these amazing choreographers."