En Pointe 01 - April 4

Apr 04 2020 | Posted in Newsletter, En Pointe

How Three Professional Ballet Dancers Are Coping with Physical Distancing

​Coronavirus precautions have settled in around Canada and the world, and the dance community has been adversely affected. As schools and large public events around the country are being cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future, dancers are no longer rehearsing. Instead they are following physical distancing recommendations by the federal and provincial governments.

As a result, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet has cancelled 80 Years – A Retrospective, effectively bringing an early and abrupt end to the 80th anniversary season for the company. Now, dancers are forced to take time away from the barre. How are they adjusting to the new reality brought on by the threat of COVID-19?

En Pointe consulted three of the RWB’s professional ballet dancers to hear how they are coping with the dramatic change in routine. What we heard were three very different perspectives on how to overcome the solitary and sedentary effects of staying home.

Sarah Davey, Second Soloist

Second Soloist Sarah Davey admits she was dismayed to learn about the cancellation of 80 Years - A Retrospective. “This was the company’s final full-length show of the season,” says Sarah, who was set to perform in all three performances in the show. “We were in our morning class when André Lewis came into the studio and informed us that we would have to leave the building immediately. We have a ballet school and many students in the building, so this was to keep them and us safe.”

Since then Sarah has been living in quarantine and doing her best to adjust to life inside. “As dancers, our careers involve human contact,” she says. “We rely on other people to feel the music, or partner, or get corrections. It’s all about being in the space together. We’re supposed to be in close contact all the time, but it’s better to practice physical distancing at this time.”

For professional dancers, much of their lives are regimented and based on routine. Sarah says she’s able to recreate that using an old agenda she’s held on to over the years. According to Sarah, “I set hourly goals for myself with what I want to accomplish, just to keep some structure in my life. I have a hard time some mornings, it’s frustrating, but there’s people who have it much worse. I try to stay positive and take every day as it comes.” Staying fit and keeping themselves dance-ready is also an important tool to achieve a sense of normality while COVID-19 makes its impact felt across the world. All three of the dancers interviewed have found ways to keep themselves active while practicing physical distancing.

“We’re so lucky in Winnipeg to have a large fitness community,” says Sarah. “My favourite one right now is The Fitual. The owner, Chalnessa Eames, used to be a dancer with the RWB, and she does online classes based on ballet technique while also being a solid, gym-style workout with good cardio. It’s been really helpful.”

As everyone acclimates themselves to the practice of physical distancing, Sarah reflects on how much she misses social contact with her friends and family. “I don’t think I realized how much I relied on social contact,” says Sarah. “It’s hard, every morning is hard. Routine is difficult when you’re not accountable to anyone or going into work. But it’s good to not be alone during the days.”

Follow Sarah on Instagram to keep up with her journey @Davey.S_.

RWB Second Soloist, Sarah Davey

Stephan Azulay, Second Soloist

When the world first learned of COVID-19, it seemed to exist only as background noise. What began as a news story from the other side of the world quickly reached Canadian soil and began changing life as we know it. Only a few weeks ago, life was carrying on with a relative sense of normality. Dancers were rehearsing for their upcoming shows and making weekend plans. That’s exactly how it was for Stephan Azulay, second soloist at the RWB.

“First, heard one of our tour shows was being cancelled, and then it was the whole tour,” recalls Stephan. “Then we got sent home and told that all rehearsals were cancelled until further notice. It’s been day by day ever since, just trying our best to follow what the federal and provincial governments are saying.”

Stephan is one of the most outgoing and socially active members of the RWB company. It’s not uncommon for him to see more than 100 friends and colleagues on any given Saturday, let alone a day when he’s rehearsing in studio, so it’s been a massive change for him. “Pre-virus my social life was very busy, and now not having that is probably the hardest thing about all of this,” he says. “I’m used to seeing people on a regular basis and now my time is spent at home.”

One of the biggest departures since physical distancing measure have been in place has been the inability to see one’s family and loved ones, but for Stephan, not much has changed in that regard. “I don’t have any family in Winnipeg, so I’m not used to seeing them regularly, but I am in contact with my family more than I normally would be. My mom wants always updates.”

Part of the challenge for Stephan has been finding new ways to fill the time that would otherwise have been spent going to The Forks or the local coffee shop. “Cooking is probably my biggest creative outlet right now,” Stephan says. “What I usually enjoy is cooking for others. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating food, but it’s not the same. I’m trying new things I normally wouldn’t be able to do because of my schedule. I made cronuts the other day, which I shared on social media and delivered to people’s doorstep. People tuned in and followed along and asked questions. It was really fun.”

When asked about how he’s staying in shape, Stephan was not concerned. “People are stressed about getting out of shape. I have a bunch of workout equipment at my home and just got a stationary bike delivered,” says Stephan. “I’m working out as much as I can, but I’m trying to look at the bigger picture. I’m more focused on my overall mental health right now.”

Connect with Stephan on Instagram to see how he’s coping @StephanAzulay.

RWB Second Soloist, Stephan Azulay

Jaimi Deleau, Corps de Ballet

Dancers rely on each other to perform at their peak, and they rely on their company to ensure they are safe. The best way to ensure there is work for them to do, that their performances continue, and that there will be an audience waiting for them to return, is to follow these preventative measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 throughout our communities. Cancelling shows is never easy, nor is it done lightly, and that’s something Jaimi Deleau understands well.

“In light of physical distancing measures and how we rehearse, we couldn’t safely remain at the studio while practicing physical distancing. We knew certain things were up in the air,” Jaimi recalls, “but when André Lewis came into class and said we would all have to leave, it became so real in that moment. Suddenly, we had to leave our work and we still don’t know when we’ll be back.”

For Jaimi, it was incredibly important to maintain her routine. She has been using her time to find new ways to incorporate her typical activities into her life in quarantine. “It’s really important to stay active every day, even if you can’t go to the gym or do what you normally do,” Jaimi says. “The first day, I rearranged all my furniture in the condo and created a workout space for myself. Since then I’ve been taking online classes or Instagram live classes.”

This week, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet launched the first online classes for company members to take part in. For Jaimi, having her classes moved online has been very rewarding and a key component of keeping her spirits high. “It’s been great to connect with everyone and see everyone’s faces. It’s been good to reconnect and chat like normal. We’re used to seeing each other all day every day, it’s really weird to not do that, so having these classes for 90 minutes each day has been great.”

When classes end and the feelings of uncertainty return, Jaimi says she values human connection the most. “It’s important to talk to people when you’re feeling anxiety, which we all feel at some point,” she says. “There’s no real way to deal with this because we’ve never been through something like this. The closest thing to being isolated for a dancer is having an injury, but you can still go in for physiotherapy With this you’re on your own, figuring things out as you go.”

More than anything, dancers appreciate the support of their audience. They dream of the applause at the end of a performance for which they have spent months preparing. Not knowing when they can return to the stage has been one of the greatest challenges that they have had to overcome during these initial weeks of the quarantine, but Jaimi is staying positive. “The biggest fear is the unknown. We don’t know when this will be over or what the new normal will be, but we’re all in this together. I know we will get through this and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We will dance again, and we will get our normal back.”

Stay in touch with Jaimi’s journey during the pandemic on Instagram @Jdeleau22.

RWB Corps de Ballet Member, Jaimi Deleau