Laura Sheaffer running

Being an Artist During COVID-19

If we were to ever meet one of the first things that I always mention is that I am a dance major. Pretty cool right? When people think of Michigan their minds immediately go to maize & blue, Jim Harbaugh, Big 10 football, noteworthy alumni, and amazing academics. You don’t often hear of someone who is in the arts program, unless you know who Darren Criss is….

The arts are always forgotten, and Michigan is no exception. 

The dance building is gross and in desperate need of some renovations. We have four studios, however, two of them are in the basement with no windows. We call these studios the dungeon, while the other two look onto the alley that contains the building's trash… inspiring. The student lounge is so small that the overflow of students sit in the hallway and walking through is like going through a maze. When we were sent home all of our dance technique classes (ballet, contemporary, jazz) were canceled. Studios were shut down. The only dancing being done was my silly dancing in my room to my favorite songs.

Yoga Sunset Beach Exercise Health Mental Peaceful VacationWhen studios opened back up us dancers and artists were forced to dance in the confined spaces and unsupportive floors of our homes. Initially, this is all we had, and we had to deal with it. I didn’t have space in my room to do an arabesque. When studios opened up and allowed some dancers to be in person, the way we now take class was changed immensely. Some studios to this day still remain remote and rely on Zoom to teach masses of hungry dancers (Broadway Dance Center is one), other studios have taped boxes on the floor where dancers must remain during class, with absolutely no touching other dancers in the room and obviously, masks being worn at all times. As much as dance is a personal investigation into one's growth, it is also so reliant on others. The beautiful partnering of a ballet’s pas de deux and the intricate contemporary lifts cannot be done at this time. Improving alone can only get a dancer so far, we must learn how to dance with others and learn how to trust another dancer to catch you. 

As people began to go back to work, the dance community did not. Many dancers and artists were still out of work, and continue to be. The beauty of dance is the performance aspect of it, that is why I first fell in love with it. I love being on stage and feeling invincible as all eyes are on me. Being stuck without the ability to perform and show off our art form has really impacted the dance community negatively. Studios and companies are shutting down and it seems like no one cares to help us out. Dance and the art community is not just a glorified hobby, despite what many people think. The dance community brings in a revenue of $877 billion dollars a year into the economy. It employs 5.1 million people and is 4.5% of the GDP. We are important despite our consistent lack of recognition in society. 

With the start of the new school year, dance continues to look different. There will be no performances. Seniors have worked for the past four years to create their senior thesis concert entirely from scratch. That will not be happening this year. Classes are remote, and with the lack of facilities open around campus, we have no choice but to dance in our confined apartments, houses, and dorms. If that isn’t bad enough we will be graduating into a community that does not have many hiring opportunities and an economy that does not support us. Our future is bleak and we need help. 

CoronavirusHowever, life isn’t all negative right now. I have been able to take classes at studios in New York City and Chicago while I live in Ann Arbor and take 18 credits. This wouldn’t have been possible without COVID making everything go remote. Dance is also becoming more accessible to everyone, with the lack of performance opportunities many dancers and choreographers are turning to cameras and videography to show off their work. It isn’t the same as a live performance, but posting these works to easily accessible sites allows the community to become more recognized for all of our hard work and creativity. Dancing for a camera is the future and, now, we are getting to practice turning dance into a more interactive experience.