The Show Must (Virtually) Go On

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, dance companies and studios are closed for classes and rehearsals. Even without an audience to perform for, it is important that dancers maintain appropriate mental and physical activities while at home.

As a performing arts physical therapist, I wanted to check in with some of Chicago’s professional dancers with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago – Adrienne Lipson, Kevin J. Shannon, and Craig D. Black Jr.. Read below to learn how their worlds are adapting and growing during this time when the theaters are dark and how they are keeping a positive attitude through it all.

On March 12, when the status of the virus was changing hour-by-hour, Hubbard Street was seemingly one of the first performing arts companies to cancel all upcoming shows. You guys were literally waiting backstage when the news hit. What were some of your feelings when the company learned that you would not be able to perform?

ALPretty extreme disappointment. This dissipated, of course…but it was crushing to not be able to share this show that we all poured ourselves into.

KSI knew that with the danger of Covid-19 spreading, our shows would most likely be cancelled. However, it was still heartbreaking to not be able to do the performances that we had been working so hard on. I believe this was especially hard for dancers who are leaving the company next year and dancers whose first time it would have been performing Ohad Naharin’s work. “Decadance” speaks of love, of fear, of vulnerability, of humanity and it will be important to share work when we can come together again.

CBJIt was a very sad and upsetting moment. Many of us were aware of the high probability of cancellation, but hoped we would at least be able to perform opening night. We had put so much time and energy into preparing for this program and we weren’t able to experience the payoff of performing.


How are the Hubbard Street company members staying connected with one another during this unprecedented time?

ALWe are actually still “working from home.” Monday to Friday the company gets together on Zoom to have company class, rehearsal, and the occasional happy hour!

KSWe are also creating with [choreographer] Peter Chu virtually, doing interviews with other artists and creating dance videos together.

CBJOn top of Zoom, we’ve been using an app called Houseparty which is a video chat that has the option to play games within the app.


How are you as an individual staying connected to the dance world as a whole right now?

ALThere has been a huge surge of dance classes and workshops available online through platforms like Zoom and Instagram live, and it’s been actually an amazing opportunity to reconnect with different teachers and dancers around the globe, as well as trying out classes that I would never have had access to living in Chicago. Personally I am really enjoying taking online Gaga classes (which have had up to 1000 people from all over the world in a single class)! As difficult as this situation is, the sense of community feels strong to me with artists truly doing their best to support other artists.

KSI have been recording online classes for the Hubbard Street Youth Program, taking zoom workshops, and doing HIIT workouts with friends virtually in Germany. So many artists are finding ways to connect and there are artists you might never have been able to learn from that you can now because they live across the world. This has opened up many new possibilities for some artists. Although I think this is not sustainable and access to a digital platform is not available to all. It has revealed a lot of the huge economic disparity in our community.


I see via Instagram that Hubbard Street has been doing some unique, virtual, and NEW works. Can you describe the process behind those?

CBJAs mentioned before, the company has been using Zoom to work with Peter Chu. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was planned to rework Peter Chu’s piece “Space in Perspective” for our Summer Series. The company has been able to take material from the original piece and also create new material in our homes for a virtual experience. It has been quite amazing to be able to continue a process with Peter. After our daily ballet class we do some breathing and Qigong practices with Peter. Then we have breakout rehearsals to work on offerings we have prepared with our roommates or other dancers in the company. I don’t want to spoil the experience by telling too many things, but this process has been feeding us in a way that is needed at the moment. We are lucky to be able to work with such an inspiring and nurturing person.


What has been the hardest part about this process taking place virtually?

KSWe have been working with the incredible Peter Chu on an upcoming virtual sharing. Peter has been sharing his knowledge of Qigong and it has been beautiful. He has created a safe space for us to learn and to share our art of movement with each other. I think it is hard to work virtually for long hours and it takes much longer to learn this way by dancing. Lack of space to move is also a huge issue.


How are you staying active right now to be performance-ready?

ALThe three of us (Kevin, Craig, and I) have been able to do a bit of HIIT interval training virtually with our friend from Germany, Pauline Staneker, who is a formal professional dancer and really knows how to kick our butts! In general, outside of dance classes, I am trying to take advantage of this time to cross train and take care of lingering injuries to make sure I’m feeling stronger and more stable when the time comes to perform again.

For at-home workout ideas, check out 6 Tips for At-Home Fitness for Dancers.


How else have you been nourishing your creative brain?

ALI have been getting back into painting, which has been a really nice and peaceful outlet to offset the craziness of bouncing around and being so physical in our living room.

KSI have been reading books by my favorite childhood authors such as Lois Lowry and Ursula K. LeGuin and I’ve been cooking recipes I haven’t had time to cook.


What have you been doing to practice self-care?

ALThis is a bit of a tough one, because while the typical forms of self-care that I would usually turn to (meditation, face masks, journaling) are still great, I am finding that what I need in this strange moment changes daily. Sometimes those things work or sometimes I just need to binge Netflix and eat popcorn! So it’s been a bit of keeping myself healthy and also letting myself be a real mess.

CBJI completely agree with Adrienne. I think we’re trying to stay healthy by being active, getting outside time in when weather allows, and eating in a healthy manner. But, sometimes we need to just allow ourselves to be. For the three of us [that are roommates] that can be the same thing at the same time or completely different things. Sometimes I just need a nap.


What is your advice to young dancers who are recently having their recitals, competitions, showcases, and intensives changed or canceled?

ALThis is also a hard one, because the future is so uncertain at the moment. I would say to never give up hope on the arts being a crucial and special part of society, and that if you are passionate about your art form, continue to do it! Follow what makes you happy, and know that however you are experiencing this time of quarantine and social-distancing, it is all a part of life that will only enrich you as a person AND as a dancer, and offer you wisdom and perspective in the long run.

KSI want to be positive here but it is hard at this moment. I think the dance world was already changing before the Covid-19 crisis, especially in contemporary dance. There are less and less contemporary companies that can support artists fully. I’m afraid you will see more of this in the future due to Covid-19 and smaller companies and artists might suffer a lot. However, I see an opportunity for dancers to really have no fears and to speak out with your art, to ask questions about what our history of dance and if it’s how we want to move forward. This is an opportunity to make the changes you want to see made in the arts.


Going forward, how do you think the dance world will change and transform from this crisis?

ALI think that virtual classes and potentially even performances will be here to stay. They could never replace the real thing, but I think the access they can provide to people around the world is a beautiful thing.

KSVirtual learning is a great tool and I think it will be amazing to do workshops in this way with artist all over the world. Although, it is not the same as in person learning, it opens up exciting new possibilities.


How can people support Hubbard Street or give to the dance community now and in the future?

KSPlease donate to the Hubbard Street relief fund, take our classes online, share our videos on Instagram and join our virtual sharings. Also, reach out to artists and ask the artists that you love how you can support them individually.


Please visit https://www.hubbardstreetdance.com/ for more information on how to stay connected with the company or how to donate to the COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund.

Athletico is the Official Provider of Physical Therapy Services to Hubbard Street Dance Company. To learn more about our performing arts rehabilitation services, contact us at PerformingArts@Athletico.com.


by Alyssa Hartley, PT, DPT, CMTPT for Athletico Physical Therapy

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