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  • Writer's pictureLinnea Swarting

National Dance Day Reflections and Going Back to Work

It is, once again, National Dance Day. All of the days in observation of dance and ballet are moments where I reflect, and the coincidence that this year’s celebration falls on the weekend before I officially return to work at Los Angeles Ballet is significant to me. In ways, it’s gratifying knowing that I am returning to my known identity as a professional dancer and the normalcy of 9:30 company classes and other things to which I was accustomed and missed dearly over the last 18 months. On the other hand, the trauma that I (we all) have incurred from the pandemic is preventing me from truly getting excited about our return to the stage as a company, since we know now that anything can take that away in an instant. In trying to find a photo for National Dance Day, I could only return to photos from the before times (pre-pandemic) to show what I think is my place in the dance world or how I feel about dance. I crave those times when we didn’t know what it felt like to dance in a mask.


At the same time, I feel like we can never go back fully. This year has changed so much for everyone around the world, and changed our society in horrible ways, and in ways that have been productive and beneficial. Parts of us were changed or fell away, and we gained new parts in their place. I’m optimistic about a return to the studio in which we all know how lucky we are to come back and be in a somewhat normal environment. I personally am incredibly grateful that there was a vaccination available to help us achieve a return to work. Masks are a required nuisance, but I’m very willing to wear one if it means being in rehearsal again. For the past 18 months, I have been waiting and waiting for this moment to come, and here I am preparing for it on National Dance Day. And here I am thinking about all that is lost.


On a personal level, I feel like I’ve lost over a year off my career. I have lost a certain amount of the strength and physical shape that comes with dancing in a company full time. I lost relatives and friends to covid and its related ills. I feel like anything positive was frozen in time the second we went into the first lockdown, and the clock only kept ticking for things that were adding to my anxiety.


Now, I can also look back on several things I accomplished, shows I did perform despite the pandemic restrictions, professional goals I hit in dance and in new areas of life. I can appreciate the maturity I will be reentering the studio with- a new perspective brought on by an event I never prepared to live through. I can rely on my resilience, as it has carried me this far.


These are things that all dancers- and probably anybody reading this- can relate to. I’m not sure that the positives will outweigh the negatives in this situation, but reframing this time as an opportunity for growth in other parts of my personhood and life is the most productive way for me to move forward and go back to work. I can acknowledge the feelings of loss and anxiety that my technical level and physical shape might be impossible for me to recover, but I can also just try my best and see what happens. That’s really the only option left. I really just want to put this out into the world in case anybody else wants a companion to pass through these feelings with. If you are also swinging between unbelievably overjoyed and incredibly nervous about your return to work, you’re not alone.




(photo by Talbot Hall)


I recently had to write a reflective piece of prose for another writing venture, and I think it’s fitting for this situation (I have been told to never apologize for my work, so I will say that poetry/prose is not my regular genre):



Heavenly creatures of habit


Lukewarm coffee washing down two ibuprofen, your barre spot, examining browned toenails before easing them into musty toepads, cramming that package into a pointe shoe

Plie, tendu, jete, rond de jambe

Center

Finish class, take a 15, go into rehearsal for an hour, take 5, stand up and keep going, take 5, push through the swelling and stale sweat for one more hour, lunch, come back and keep going

Go home, make dinner, fill up the bucket with hot water, add Epsom salts, eat and soak and think about how you should sew new shoes

(you probably will put it off again)

Shower, stretch, watch tv, Instagram Instagram Instagram, skincare routine, and sleep.


Repeat for the duration of your career- keep going, keep going.


Or so we thought.


Covid sent us into an unplanned, uncharted, unscheduled spiral

No more waking up early, no more grabbing a protein bar for lunch, no more trying to decide what leotard best matches your rehearsal schedule.

Now it’s wake up whenever, what day is it, dancing around the apartment, wearing the same pointe shoes for a week, haven’t put on a leotard in a month

Learning to bake, reading more, applying to college, taking walks in the sun, spending hours on facetime with old friends because nobody has anything else to do

Maybe you get to go to the gym today, but next week it will close again, or they will move the equipment back outside, then inside again in a month, then masks, then no masks.


We finally have time to do all the things we said we would do if we had more time, but also some of those things are closed because of covid.

We finally have time to reflect and decide what we want, but what we want is beyond the barricade of restrictions.

We still get a lot done, but not in the studio or on stage, which is where we thought we would be getting things done at this point.

The frustrating stagnation of waiting and waiting.


-

Finally going back into the studio

Sitting in a new barre spot, first full company class in 17 months, we’re wearing masks, some people didn’t come back

The waves left us here but not all of us.


Not all of us.


As everyone loves to say, this is the New Normal.

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