On Stage

Dance On

Moving through a pandemic

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Supposedly, Billy Idol’s 1981 hit song, “Dancing with Myself,” was inspired when the singer and his bassist happened upon a gathering of youth in a Tokyo discotheque who, instead of dancing with each other, were watching their own reflections in walled mirrors.

While it’s unclear how that incident translated into the resulting MTV video that featured the charismatic performer fighting off a horde of post-apocalyptic zombies (while simultaneously showcasing some sweet moves), both scenarios act as apt metaphors for our present reality—when many people are spending more time alone while waiting out a global pandemic, and current events often make it seem as if the end of the world is nigh.

In pre-COVID-19 days, I suspect many of us took the act of dancing for granted. We could head to the dark, strobe-lit floor at Rumors Cabaret to shrug off the stress of the workweek, shake our booties at live music events from Bellingham to Anacortes, take classes at any number of venues specializing in various types of movement, join folk and contra dancers for weekly gatherings, and schedule time on our calendars for performances by community movers and shakers.

Sadly, that’s no longer the case, and some local dance-focused entities won’t make it out on the other side of the coronavirus. Bellingham Dance Company recently announced they were closing their doors, citing the virus as one of the main reasons they would no longer be offering ballroom, swing and Latin dancing classes for all ages. They noted that many of their teachers will still be offering instruction in town once it’s deemed safe to do so, and encouraged people not to be too discouraged by the turn of events.

Similarly, on May 30, John Bishop of Northwest Ballet Theater and Academy announced via a short YouTube video that the longtime dance company was vacating its rehearsal and class space on Cornwall Avenue and, barring divine intervention, likely wouldn’t be returning.

“We’ve been here for 15 years, and it’s really become our home,” he said, pointing out that their location kitty-corner to the Mount Baker Theatre meant that during productions of performances such as the The Nutcracker, Dracula, and Alice in Wonderland, they loaded more than 400 productions in and out of the nearby theater.

“It’s kind of a sad day,” Bishop added, “but because of the COVID-19 pandemic we were unable to continue classes and, of course, canceled performances for the future. We had a good run, and there might be a chance of coming back after all of this. We’re evaluating that now. Thank you, and good luck with everything.”

Groups such as the Bellingham County Dance Society will have to wait to resume the public dances they typically host a couple of times a month at the Fairhaven Library, and caution those who hope to learn how to contra dance by watching videos or reading up on the topic to wait until they resume their regular events to master the mysteries of the partnered dance form.

That’s not the case at OPUS Performing Arts. The Holly Street hub is continuing to offer ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, adult classes and more online via Zoom, and in a recent update offered tips on how to improve the experience.

Many of their suggestions would translate well for anybody wondering how to have a successful experience taking an online dance class. Among them are keeping your devices fully charged, rearranging furniture so you have space to move around, and finding substitutes for barres—including kitchen counters, chairs, dining-room tables, bookshelves, window sills and door frames.

If watching other people dance is what inspires you, you’re also in luck. Choreographer and dancer Pamela Kuntz of Kuntz and Company is creating weekly performances shared on WWU Dance’s Facebook page and beyond, and they’re not only lovely to behold, but they’re also timely. For example, a recent performance, “Dinner for One,” was layered with more than a dozen dancers—some current and past WWU dance majors—exploring the solitary act of dining alone. They eat cereal and french fries, drink wine and beer, slither artfully on floors and tables and chairs, and bring humor and levity to the concept of sheltering (and eating) in place.

The newly formed Whatcom Arts Project has also been getting in on the action, hosting a series of “Wild Wednesday” events with WWU Dance. A May 20 posting featured a video of choreographer Shen Wei’s “Connect Transfer” piece, in which dancers painted the floor with their bodies as they moved in circular swoops and swirls. A related art activity urged people to gather colored pencils or painting supplies and let their pencil or paintbrush “dance” to the music they heard, or to let their bodies follow the music and see what patterns or shapes they created as they did so.

This last suggestion makes one think that dancing by yourself in the kitchen while listening to music and making dinner might be more therapeutic than previously thought. While it won’t replace the connections made when people come together to fling their bodies around until late into the night or sit in a darkened theater watching magic being made, it just might help us move through the pandemic.


[Sun., June 14]

VIRTUAL VAUDEVILLE: The New Old time Chautauqua (NOTC) will host its first Virtual Virtuoso Vaudeville Extravaganza at 6pm on Zoom. “We intend to celebrate our connections with each other, despite our isolation, and to share our joy and laughter with a live audience,” organizers of the fundraiser say. “Each artist will be featured from their own home and broadcast into the homes of all who wish to join in. Suggested donation is $20 per screen. All donations go to keeping the NOTC alive during this uncertain time and continuing its mission of engendering community through education, entertainment and laughter.
For more info: http://www.chautauqua.org

[Mon., June 15]

VAUDE-VIDEO-HAM: The members of the Bellingham Circus Guild may not be able to share their talents in person this month at their spacious 6th Street Cirque Lab, but the monthly uncensored open-stage fundraiser will nevertheless continue starting at 7pm via a “Vaude-VIDEO-ham” watch party featuring a montage of everything from aerial performances to dance, comedy, magic, juggling, burlesque and more. Although entry to the virtual gathering is free, the ongoing event is designed as a fundraiser with a $5-$10 suggested donation. “If you feel inspired to support the Bellingham Circus Guild while we all weather this storm there is a donation button on the bottom of the front page of our website,” organizers say.
For more info: http://www.bellinghamcircusguild.com

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