Dayton ballet dancers getting creative during COVID-19 pandemic

Online performances helping local dancers during tough time

Everyone's looking for entertainment in this stay-at-home spring. Members of the Dayton Dance Initiative did their part late last month, performing in their living rooms in a series of videos compiled into one video on Facebook.

Everyone has adapted to life during the coronavirus pandemic. Local dancers and choreographers are no different. They can’t access the studios where they used to train. They can’t perform in front of crowds.

The video provided a moment of normalcy, allowing the dancers to connect with each other and the people who watch them.

"Despite the uncertainty of this time, the dancers of Dayton Dance Initiative are continuing to dance, choreograph, and move … distanced, but together," the Facebook post read. "Our hope is that we continue to inspire our audience as we encourage you to #stayhome and keep #movingstrong."

Nathaly Prieto, director of sponsorship and funding for the Dayton Dance Initiative, came up with the idea for the video. She sent an email to a number of dancers asking them to film themselves for about 30 seconds. Margot Aknin, a dancer with Dayton Ballet, edited the video.

Prieto has continued to work on ideas for how local dancers can stay sharp during the COVID-19 crisis. She hosted a ballet class April 3 on Facebook Live as part of Downtown Dayton’s Virtual First Friday.

On April 6, Michael Green, a member of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, hosted a class from his living room on Facebook Live. Heather Cagle and Robert Pulido followed on April 8 with another class.

Prieto plans to continue the online efforts.

“We are at home trying to think of different and creative ways to stay in shape and move forward with what we are facing right now,” she said. “It’s really hard for everybody. Nobody saw this coming. As artists, we just have to reach out and come up with new and creative ways to reach a new kind of audience, which is the virtual world right now.”

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The Dayton Dance Initiative was formed to give dancers from Dayton Ballet and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company a platform during the summer months when ballet is out of season. Last year, for the first time in more than 30 years, dancers from both companies combined for a show at the PNC Arts Annex.

People liked the show, Prieto said, so they booked another one for May 30. The show is still on for now, but that could change because of COVID-19. They might postpone the show to the beginning of August, or they could film a live show with smaller groups of dancers or solo dancers performing in difference areas of the city. Prieto said she might even end up doing both.

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In the meantime, dancers are doing what they can to stay in shape.

“Everybody’s doing something a little bit different,” Prieto said. “The dancers that are working with us from the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, they’re actually still employed there. In order to get their paycheck, they’re still rehearsing through Zoom — but not for this season. They’re rehearsing for next season. So they’re learning all this choreography every day Tuesday through Saturday from 10-4 p.m.”

Prieto, a native of Cuba who moved to the United States as a teenager and has been dancing for Dayton Ballet for eight years, said she will be employed through April 15 but hasn’t been allowed in the studio for weeks.

“Ballet dancers are all dealing with it differently,” she said. “I am going on walks in the morning, like really early in the morning. I try to go on a four-mile walk or five, depending on the day. Then I do my own workout. Then I teach other classes. A lot of us, besides the ballet company or the contemporary company, we teach at different studios locally, during the evenings — normally before all this happened. Some of us are still employed with those studios locally. In order to help them, we’ve been teaching for those studios through Zoom.”

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