En Pointe 15 — RWB Students Undeterred by COVID-19 Changes
All through July, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School Professional Division Summer Session has been in full swing, instilling students with the excellent dance curriculum the school is known for. As usual, students are learning ballet technique, pointe work, conditioning, repertoire, choreography, creative movement, Pilates, flamenco and more, but this year’s students are also learning how to dance while social distancing.
The RWB School’s foremost priority is teaching students safely. For students living outside of Winnipeg, this means taking classes over the internet. For students living inside Winnipeg, the return to the RWB School studios has brought with it significant departures from what they may be used to.
“COVID-19 has presented all of us with challenges and frustrations, and ballet students around the world are being forced to train in unconventional ways in order to continue perusing their dreams,” says Katie Bonnell, Second Soloist with the RWB and one of several company dancers who are taking on a teaching role this summer. Company dancers taking on teaching roles is, however, far from the only change taking place this year.
Previous editions of En Pointe have discussed how difficult it is to rehearse and perform while practicing social distancing, but the complete list of measures in place to ensure student safety is surprising.
Students have been grouped into pods, which remain together throughout the course of the program. Pods are required to arrive ready for class at predesignated times and wait outside the building, with two meters between each student, for staff to greet them at the door. Students are also required to complete a self-screening checklist every day before entering the building and to sanitize their hands once they do.
Upon entering the building, students are required to wear non-medical masks as they move from place to place. They travel via assigned routes to specific waiting areas until the teacher can take them in to class. Each waiting area has chairs spaced six feet apart and each student is assigned a chair. Every student must also bring enough water for their day, as well as food that doesn’t require refrigeration, as the water fountains and shared refrigerators are off-limits during this time.
Inside the classroom, students are not required to wear their masks, but are assigned spots at the barre in accordance with social distancing guidelines. When it’s time for centre work, the group moves to specially delegated squares which have been marked on the floor. Within these squares the dancers are able to move freely, with respect to the other students, as they receive instruction from teachers who are also abiding by social distancing recommendations.
“We have all been removed from working how we are used to,” says Liam Caines, RWB Second Soloist and another teacher in the RWB School Summer Session. “Those in the studio are faced with restrictions on how they can use the space, and those at home joining us online may face even more challenges when trying to figure out how to continue working there. This process will be a good opportunity to work on our patience, our ability to find creative solutions, and self-motivation: all good qualities for artists to have.”
As for the students themselves, these changes have not stopped them from doing what they love. For the young people in the RWB 2020 Summer Session, the unique rules and restrictions are just what it takes to be stay safe while continuing to develop as dancers. One student, Julianna Generoux, summed up this new experience succinctly when asked for her thoughts on this year’s session.
“I knew there was going to be changes. At first, I was just surprised by how different it was, and it took a while to get used to, but it seems pretty normal now,” says Generoux. “I think it has been really nice to be back. Instead of doing the online classes, now we have a ballet teacher who can see you and being surrounded by your classmates makes it a lot much more enjoyable than being stuck in your living room.”
For students of the RWB’s School Professional Division Summer Session, the dream of becoming a world-class dancer remains as strong as ever. With any luck, 2020 will be the only year these protective measures will remain in place, and when the world returns to normal, the challenges faced by this special group of RWB students will have helped to make them stronger, more adaptable dancers.