When the pandemic hit last year, the dance world came to a grinding halt. As studios across the country struggled to shift classes online, teach on Zoom, and adjust to the new Covid-19 reality, many sought the support of other teachers and students.
“One of the things that has been really unexpected was, when everything started happening, lots of studio owners and dance group leaders started communicating and asking questions about what other studios are doing for the first time,” Motion Pacific Director Collette Tabone says. “It’s been a time where people started coming together and relying on each other and helping one another. It was incredible to see.”
Dance Week, Motion Pacific’s largest annual event, was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. But this year, the group is hosting Dance Week in a modified form. While Dancing in the Streets won’t return until next year, Motion Pacific is partnering with other dance programs and organizations across the county to host “Dance in Unlikely Places”—a performance pop-up around Santa Cruz—and an open class weekend that will offer free, socially distanced outdoor dance classes at Motion Pacific and the Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center.
“Last year, we were all getting ready for Dance Week, which has become such a lynchpin for the entire dance community in Santa Cruz,” says Caitlin Fahey, co-owner of Synergy Dance, Fitness & Tai Chi. “I talked to other dance teachers because we were all really trying to support each other and share information.”
Likewise, Motion Pacific has invited dance studios and programs around the county to share their stories of what the pandemic has been like for them. Hoping to showcase the stories on social media, Tabone says that the idea was to create more visibility around the diversity and resilience of the dance community during the pandemic.
A full schedule of classes will be presented on Saturday, April 24, and Sunday, April 25, with a mix of artists including the Barre Collective, Folklorico, Palomar, and more. Participants must purchase an all-class pass that gives them access to whichever classes they like. Classes cap at around 14 students, so early sign-up is recommended.
NEW CHALLENGES, NEW CONNECTIONS
One Dance Week collaborator working to bring dance back to the community is Senderos, which teaches Latinx culture and history through dance and music. Because the organization serves many low-income families, it has—like them—been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.
“During the year, we lost families and family members,” says Senderos founder Silva-Robles says. “We faced the challenge of how to keep our kids connected and keep them busy, but at the same time we were faced with the challenge of how to find food for our members, how to be able to survive without food or money because they could not work.”
For the first few months of the pandemic, Senderos offered weekly Zoom and technology classes for its members, in anticipation of school commencement in the fall. But many Senderos students are new immigrants who do not speak English or necessarily know how to operate digital technology.
With that in mind, the organization focused its resources on technology classes taught by young Senderos students who were more familiar and comfortable with the technology. The students would then teach the older generation how to use Zoom, check emails, set up doctor’s appointments, and become more familiar with the internet.
Despite the challenges, the pandemic also brought some good: Senderos could stream dance and music classes with maestros (teachers) from Mexico.
“We started to develop classes with the maestros in Mexico with our young high school students and children in elementary school,” Silva-Robles says. “That way they have the opportunity to see Sinaloa, Campeche and Tamaulipas through Zoom. That helped take some of the stress off, and, through dance and music, we gave some therapy to our members.”
International dance and communication is something that many studios have been able to do for the first time in the pandemic. In particular, the collaborative classes helped some Senderos students connect to their roots for the first time ever. “We can share from Santa Cruz to Mexico, without the thing we call a border. Without the paper that we call visas. We can do it,” Silva-Robles says.
Now, in its 20th anniversary year, Sendedoros is looking ahead to virtually host their annual Vive Oaxaca Guelaguetza event next month. The event will include many of the students and maestros from Mexico. Senderos will also be participating in the social media collection part of Dance Week.
“The whole dancer community really came together to share information and support each other. It’s pretty impressive to me, it was a stressful situation for teachers and students. We had to change on a dime, and that is just amazing,” Fahey says. “I always knew dancers would find a way. Dance is our lifeblood, it’s part of our lives and our identity.”