Friends, I'd like to deliver some news that might be challenging for you. As much as we have been trained to believe "the show must go on," I can assure you right now, it will be fine if it does not.
I understand. Trust me, I do. The pandemic arrived smack in the middle of a performance project I've been creating since 2017. I had hopes of getting it to the stage in 2021. Considering that 2021 is here, I'm clear that's an unrealistic goal. I'm also clear that my dance work is about being in the room with people. It's about the breath and the sweat and the touching (actually, full body contact with) each other. It's about talking to folks and stirring up energy and vibrations for every person in the performance space. But that breath and sweat transmits coronavirus, and, frankly, all those vibes don't translate to video.
I'm not interested in suddenly becoming a dance filmmaker and learning new technological platforms that are not necessarily in service to the work. Last March, without so much as a beat, the dance community "pivoted to virtual," moving classes, rehearsals and performances (where we could) online. Abruptly, we were engaged in crash courses on Zoom teaching and livestreaming in efforts to "keep up with the Joneses," maintain relevance, assert dance as essential, and hold on to our financial livelihoods, which, for many, evaporated overnight.
I'd like to offer another perspective: What if we rested?
As musician Mrs. Smith stated recently in a popular Instagram meme, "A pandemic is not a residency." We are living through a collective trauma, a once-in-a-lifetime historical moment, and taking "time off" is not a symptom of laziness. In fact, I see this time as a gift. I am thrilled to see folks develop other interests and skills that support their income. I am inspired to see artists explore other parts of their creative practice. I am encouraged by those cultivating systems that foundationally sustain making our art. I am affirmed in caring for the people who facilitate our dancemaking, including dancers, musicians, company managers and even our families. I am heartened to see investment in the communities for which we dance.
Kimberly Mhoon and Nehemoyia Young in SLMDances' CAKE
Oron Bell/G.L.O Photos, Courtesy Mosley
This is not to say you shouldn't be dancing. We all need movement right now to keep us mentally, spiritually and physically healthy. However you choose to do that—and your relationship to screens in doing that—is wonderful. Please, do what works for you. My preference is to dance like nobody's watching in my living room, because guess what? They're not. It isn't interesting to me to press record on my iPhone and post it to the 'gram, because that's not why I am dancing. I'm simply moving to stay sane and get in a good sweat.
I'm also grateful that rehearsals with my core collaborators, Sydnie L. Mosley Dances, have continued as planned. When I've received the pointed question "What are you rehearsing for?," I remind people that: 1. Rehearsal is a ritual, and we hold that time in our calendars as sacred, 2. We believe in process over product, and 3. Our business structure is predicated on paying people to be in a process which has not stopped, even if that process has taken a new shape.
Have I done some virtual dancemaking this year? Sure. Who hasn't? I made a 75-second video as a part of a friend's project to get out the vote, and I directed a short dance on camera for a virtual residency with high school students. I am even showing a previously filmed solo in a virtual dance festival with a live emcee and talk-back event that I am delighted to participate in. Will I start to make a habit of this, especially with SLMDances? Nah. Nothing beats sitting live in a theater—God, I miss it! I'm not going to pretend like a two-camera shoot is a worthy replacement.
I do think there are some moments where it makes sense to create a virtual experience, or even a live experience (enacting the best of COVID-19 safety precautions). I've been overjoyed to see how dancers have taken to the streets in acts of protest. I've watched my share of dance films and magical Zooms, thoughtfully curated events that wrangle the digital space. I think that if your curiosity and aesthetic are at the intersection of dance and digital media, now is your time to shine. I can't wait to see what you are creating.
As we embark on year two of the pandemic, here are some questions you might want to consider:
- Am I creating digital work because it's truly in service of my mission and values or just because that's what everyone else is doing right now?
- How am I creating space to honor grief for the projects that were lost/canceled or are shapeshifting?
- How might I benefit from sitting still for an extended time and listening to my body?
- How might my skills be transferable and useful toward causes that will fortify the lives and labor of dancers?
- What is my definition of success?
- As I return to in-person dance activities, how can I foreground intentionality, care and collectivity to ensure everyone's health and safety?
I invite you to consider how you are making space for rest, grief, rage, joy, pleasure, dreaming and breath during this moment of global transformation. Our field can be competitive and we need to pay the rent, but in this unprecedented year, I invite you to let go of the pressure to produce something just for the sake of it, especially if it does not feel authentic to your practice.
As for me, I know I live in the land of the tactile, analog, ephemeral and you had to be there. Until we can be together safely again to create that kind of alchemy, I'll wait.