Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Tights, Leotards, Buns and Masks: How Ballet West Took on Summer Training in a Pandemic

Our nation turned into a ghost town by the end of March 2020. Like a Band-Aid ripped off that we did not realize was even there, our lives became something we had never expected. Quarantine was a term left for Sci-Fi movies, as was a deadly virus covering the world, but here we are. The People's Choice for the word of the year was "unprecedented," which could not be more accurate. Everyone's daily lives were affected. Young, old, in school, out of school, it did not matter. The world was quiet and digital, and there was no going back.

This lockdown that began in early spring was only supposed to last until spring break. The extra weeks cut out of our school years, and work schedules were for cleaning purposes, right? Flash forwards a summer, a new year and almost a month, and here we all sit. Masks up, patiently waiting our turn for the vaccine. This is beside the point. Let us go back to the summer. We thought we would be free by summer. We were wrong.

Peoples' summers were flipped upside down. One group in particular that lost necessary time from their summer was the dancers. Every dancer knows what the end of spring is for; the wrap-up shows that, at the end, begins the summer, and of course, summer training. Summer intensives are a big deal; it is where significant improvement and some of the best memories can come from. But, when Rona was still around at the end of May, with no brighter eyes for June or July, many dancers lost hope. A summer of new faces, new teachers and hours upon hours of dance would soon become a summer of home zooms and the occasional stretch, but nothing that would compare to the energy of an intensive. But not all institutions called their programs off, and surprisingly so. It was almost assumed they all would be. How could hundreds of dancers exist in the same place and no one, not even the faculty, contract such a rapidly spreading disease? 

To put a spotlight on one dance institution that excelled this past summer, we can look at the Ballet West Academy. Lydia Morris and Shannon Moore were two of the program's dancers that entered and thrived in the studios of the prestigious ballet company, Ballet West. In a summer full of uncertainty, here is how it was all possible.

[bf_image id="x4gw4gxhb764vb7q7x2mk5"]

According to Lydia (pictured above), "There were 265 students, 18 Resident Interns, as well as 40 other faculty participating in this intensive and not one of those 323 people in the five-week program got COVID." Quite a feat, including the fact it took place in Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah. To accomplish this, both Lydia and Shannon described more extreme measures and precautions than they had experienced in previous summers. They both could agree the most challenging part was learning how to adjust to hours upon hours of dance…in a mask.

Lydia elaborated on this, explaining, "To be honest, the most difficult part was probably dancing with the masks on and the fact we had all been stuck at home outside of the studio for months because of the pandemic." She explained that they all felt out of shape, out of breath and out of dance. Add a mask to that and it would seem miserable, but she digressed.  "The discomfort really only lasted for about a week. We were all so eager to get back to the art form we have dedicated so much time to, that wearing a mask was more than worth it to get back to it and to keep ourselves and our peers and teachers safe," noted Lydia. She then went on to describe that towards the end, some of them were dancing seven hours a day with masks on! If 265 dancers can hustle for up to seven hours a day in a mask, anyone could wear a mask to simply walk into a store. Perhaps her most enlightening point about this was her reflection on mask usage in general, that "to keep our world running and our friends and family safe, a mask is a small price to pay," said Lydia. I would have to agree with her.

[bf_image id="jtcfbnmwsc8tqk5fzss34h"]

Shannon (pictured above, left) described how as opposed to "normal" summers, the timing of their training was adjusted in addition to the mask mandate. Shannon said, "Typically, classes are spread throughout the day, but the hours we spent at the studio were condensed into one-time slot each day." Lydia added that "it felt as though everything was a lot stricter, like the times we had to eat, when and where we could enter and exit the building (dancers went into the studio one by one), not being able to leave without a Resident Intern, and not being able to go in each other's rooms." Lydia made a point however that "the protocols, though they made this summer different, were so crucial to the functioning of the intensive and contributed greatly to the fact that no one got COVID." She even described the "no-excuses policy." The protocols were in place for the specific purpose of keeping everyone safe, and when Ballet West saw some dancers not doing their part, they were not hesitant to hand out suspensions.

[bf_image id="2r7n544mbt9hh5n589sptkt"]

It was evident they both had very different experiences from summers pre-COVID. But it was also evident when I asked them if it was worth it that it undoubtedly was. Lydia explained, "It was more than worth it. Taking class at Ballet West as well as getting to work with amazing teachers and perform a piece choreographed by Rex Tilton was one of the best experiences of my life, in addition to the fact it all happened, despite COVID." Tilton is a Principal Dancer with the company, the highest level a professional ballet dancer can achieve in a performing company. Shannon could only respond with one word, "Absolutely." It was possible, and it was worth it.

Photos captured by Joshua Whitehead from Ballet West summer intensive and art Emotion Ballet School.

Want to see more HCFSU? Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Youtube and Pinterest!

Emma Edy Morris is currently a dance major at Florida State University. She will also be receiving her dual degree in Editing, Writing, and Media, and a minor yet to be determined. Emma is a passionate and driven individual. Her artistic ability and creativity in both of her expressive outlets have helped create the woman she is today. She aspires to join both the professional dance world and world of journalism in pursuit of capturing ideas and moments, and cultivating them in a way they can be gifted to the audience.
Similar Reads👯‍♀️