DANCING FROM HOME
with OBT School: An Inside Look

The Covid-19 crisis has had an immense impact on all of our lives. We’ve had to adapt and support each other and our communities from a distance. In response to the statewide stay at home orders in March, the Oregon Ballet Theatre School quickly pivoted their approach and developed in depth virtual training for their students. We have asked our OBT School dancers and teachers to give us an inside look at what these changes and experiences have looked like for them.

OBT School Director, Marion Tonner, has been leading her Zoom classes both from home and from Studio 2, where the OBT production staff and safety committee established protocols and set up lighting, cameras, and large monitors to make leading, and observing students much easier. Level 3 students, Luke Hanifan and Evie Chan, and OBT2 dancer Phallyn Navarro have created “at home” studios in hallways, garages, and shared family rooms that they have had to adapt with homemade barres and special flooring. Without the usual mirrors of the studio to reflect positioning and technique, all of them have had to take extra effort to find quiet surroundings where they can concentrate and focus internally on their movement.

“I have been so inspired when seeing our OBT School students work so hard in various surroundings. Their work ethic has exceeded my expectations in this virtual platform” —Marion Tonner

Moving to this new format for ballet training has presented dancers and teachers with varied challenges. With everyone sharing their dance space with their families and pets, the distractions can feel endless. Adjusting to different surfaces and unpredictable equipment, like slippery floors or collapsing barres, and managing technical difficulties also adds to the frustration. For the teachers, the need for clear and precise communication to make up for the lack of in person instruction creates a much more extensive planning and preparation process. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is staying hopeful through all the uncertainty and frustrations during this time.

“I miss the social aspect and working in a real studio without lag or having to log on to a computer every time I do class, but I do get more time to work out with my mom. We have been doing a warm up then push-ups, goblet squats, pullups, kettlebell swings, and overhead presses.” —Luke
“Every time we have to make a recording for an assignment, my Mom says “3, 2, 1…go” before she starts recording. When she says “Go,” my dog Duke starts barking and tries to play with her. This inevitably messes up my recording. We have started saying “3, 2, 1… in either Spanish or French to outsmart my dog.” —Evie
“Every day a new challenge presents itself. I think the hardest challenge personally is reminding myself to stay hopeful. I find myself thinking about all the uncertainty within the world and my personal life. I like to plan ahead and at a times like these it is extremely hard for me to grasp the fact that there is no timeline for anyone.” —Phallyn

Challenges during a zoom class can quickly turn into comical moments. OBT School dancers have witnessed their teacher’s cat move unluckily into the middle of a grand battement exercise, made dancing partners with their pets (that tend to join in whenever class starts), and witnessed the absurdity of trying to dance in sync over a zoom call.

“Sometimes the music is so fast that everyone looks like popcorn because the music is getting to their computers at different times.” —Luke

Though nothing can replace coming together to dance and learn, OBT School teachers and dancers have been able to find some semblance of inspiration and connection through their virtual lessons. This is what they had to say:

“I have seen dance students try to balance a cell phone on a sofa in order to participate in the Zoom classes, and kiddos struggle to maintain an internet connection – it is all totally endearing and makes me miss them all so very much.” —Marion
“Probably my favorite memory is when my dad made me a barre out of plastic pipes. Then, the next day, when the teacher called on me to demonstrate an exercise, it fell apart!” —Luke

“I have been a student at OBT School since I was 3 years old and I think of OBT School as a home away from home. I miss coming to the studio and seeing my friends, my teachers, the accompanists and all the school staff. I love it when we log in to Zoom and I get to see the faces and hear the voices of my teachers and my friends. It makes me feel more connected to ballet and to my community.” —Evie

“This time is surely one I’ll remember forever! So far my favorite memory is when the teachers are so joyful to be teaching us. I always enjoyed how caring our OBT School teachers have been, in the studio and out.” —Phallyn

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