A Butler Ballet dancer reflects on artists’ experiences during the past months

Photo of Mia Olivares by Kennedy Lee.

MIA OLIVARES | OPINION COLUMNIST | molivares@butler.edu

In March 2020,  artists around the entire world woke up to the news that they would not be returning to their beloved spaces. Butler University responded immediately to the pandemic, emptying the residence halls and campus and moving all classes remotely online.

For Butler Ballet, costume fittings for Swan Lake had been completed and countless hours of rehearsals had already occurred. Not only would it be the last time many dancers would see a studio for months, but it was a goodbye to the senior dancers’ final opportunity to perform in Clowes Memorial Hall.

While we felt a deep sense of disappointment, we were also grateful for a break. Perhaps, we thought, we needed this break for our bodies. But slowly, everything deteriorated with COVID-19. Dancers began to find themselves sitting around at home with lots of time on their hands. Any athlete can agree: it is very difficult to go from hours of daily activity to practically none.

Studies related to brain chemistry and exercise also prove this to be true. The Journal of Neuroscience reports that there are several positive effects to mental health when exercise is incorporated. Physical exercise releases endorphins, which in turn improves mood, learning and also memory in humans. The Butler Ballet dancers went from dancing somewhere near fifteen hours a week to nothing at all.

Not only was it hard to not be able to dance at home, but it was even harder to see other areas of study within the university successfully transitioning to Zoom learning. We could not replicate our community via Zoom and there was nothing there to replace the void in our lives. 

As the months went on, many began to lose their passion and drive. The days slowly turned into weeks, which slowly turned into months. We could feel our technique slipping away from us. Our mental health declined as well. As other students were able to finish the second semester successfully online, Butler Ballet’s semester did not feel complete.

Our fears only grew as local studios remained closed well into the summer. It became obvious we would need to find other ways to distract ourselves. Personally, I decided to distance myself from dance. I found that taking ballet in my basement left me with feelings of frustration and disappointment. Instead, I decided to make other fitness goals I could hit for myself. Although this did not at all compare to what dancing did for my body and mental health, it allowed me to focus my energy elsewhere temporarily. 

The Butler Ballet students were not alone in this feeling of loss; many of our professors were in the same boat. I discussed this with Butler dance professor Derek Reid, who reflected on the struggles of being away from school and dance for so long. 

“It was very difficult to not be in the same place as my students,” Reid said. “The adjustment to being online was tough, but the physical distance between me and my students was hard to combat.”

Every art form has its community. At Butler Ballet, dancers use their community not just as a second family, but also as a motivating factor to continue and allow their passion for dance to flourish; thus, the distance really affected how we saw ourselves as dancers. Some dancers who once had never once doubted a life devoted to dance found themselves disassociating from the art. We no longer were the strong and collective community of Butler Ballet, but a group of disjointed individuals who felt lost.

Senior dancer Daniel Scofield reflected on this difficult time as well. Scofield discussed how he took this opportunity to work on other projects in order to busy himself. 

As a senior dance major, I also spent a lot of time getting myself ready for this year’s professional company auditions,” Daniel said. “Because so much of this year’s process is virtual, I spent a good amount of time editing video reels of my past performances and creating a personal website.”

Almost all the dancers returned this fall to Butler despite the challenging times. Many approached the new year still questioning if dance was important enough to keep. We were welcomed back by all the faculty, ready to follow COVID-19 protocols. Things were very different, but it was a new normal we had to adjust to.

Returning back to the studios after months of not properly training was another burden we all had to endure. Not only were we expected to work just as hard as the years before, but we also had to focus on the Nutcracker shows ahead of us. Dance professor Cynthia Pratt reflected on Butler Ballet’s return to the studios and what it was like to work side by side with the dancers this past fall.

“I had a fabulous semester in the fall, I was very focused on my teaching and I was extremely inspired by the excellent work all of the students were doing,” she said. “I didn’t want it to stop.”

Pratt’s positivity and enthusiasm kept dancers afloat. She pushed us every day to work harder and to remember that no day is guaranteed. 

We as a community know that every day may literally be the last time we step into a studio. After experiencing such lows last year, we are pushing into the new year with so much hope and gratefulness. Every dancer is excited for what is to come, even if it is a little bit different. As for continuing performances, Butler Ballet will be able to put together two shows this semester: Midwinter and a mixed repertoire in place of a spring ballet. 

Although the entire community is very upset about not being able to do Swan Lake again this year, we feel thankful we are even able to perform. All of the professors and stage crew are working diligently to ensure we have an amazing semester, while also being safe.

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