The show must go on: Adapting and thriving through COVID-19

The show must go on: Adapting and thriving through COVID-19

The Show Must Go On. It’s a phrase that we dancers know well, and it speaks to our adaptability, our resilience and our ability to thrive under pressure. As an industry, we are used to dealing with anything that’s thrown at us, and never have we been so tested before. Despite the hardships caused by the pandemic, so many dancers are still managing to find the silver linings in each day. We spoke to two of Só Dança’s brand ambassadors – known as So Dancers – Brittany Cavaco and Bianca Bulle, about how they are coping during the pandemic and what the phrase “The Show Must Go On” means to them.

Both dancers are frank about the difficulties they have encountered this year. “Some of the biggest challenges that I have faced during the pandemic were having all of my shows cancelled, not having a place to dance and being financially insecure,” begins Cavaco. “At the start of quarantine, I was preparing for my contract with English National Ballet for Swan Lake at Royal Albert Hall. I was certain things would be better in a few weeks, and it was crushing to have the shows cancelled. The fall season and Nutcrackers have been cancelled here in L.A., and it is really frightening not knowing when I will be able to perform next. It has also been a challenge to maintain the level of technique and to stay motivated with ballet classes in my living room. I do a lot of dance-based campaigns for brands and social media, which helps my finances incredibly. Besides having numerous contracts terminated – meaning I wouldn't get paid for the shows and rehearsals that I was hired for – I had over 15 campaigns cancelled. I know that I am not alone and that so many artists of all types have been left financially unstable.”

“I think the uncertainty for dancers as to when they will be able to dance or perform again, as well as the security of their jobs during the pandemic, has had a big impact,” agrees Bulle. “It’s put a lot of stress on everyone. Not having any clear answers while the situation is continually changing has been really difficult.”

Staying motivated has not been easy, but both Bulle and Cavaco have focused on their health and on their craft. “Exercising is super important to keep your energy and adrenaline flowing,” shares Bulle. “It's really easy to just shut down, but that is a vicious cycle. A lot of dancers unknowingly need this break, as tough as it has been, to force them to find a balance in their life with new interests and hobbies.”

“I know that a lot is out of my control at the moment,” Cavaco says. “The only thing I can control is myself, so I've been focused on that and on coming out of this quarantine stronger than I went into it. My boyfriend, who I quarantined with, has also been a great motivator and has helped me stay positive whenever I'm down.”

Bianca Bulle
Brittany Cavaco

Both have had to find innovative ways to maintain their technique, especially as So Dancers at the highest professional level. “I have created my own mini studio with a barre and 6x6 piece of Marley,” describes Bulle. “Even just a good long barre is so helpful to retain muscle definition and strength. In addition, I have been teaching via Zoom so much that I'm also practicing to a degree while I teach. The focus isn't on me and how well I’m executing the steps, but now I get to help someone else better their skills and technique.”

“I am actually a Pilates instructor, and I do a ton of Pilates,” says Cavaco. “I have my own Reformer at home, and it has helped me stay in great shape! I also love doing ballet classes taught by dancers and directors all around the world. Some of my favorite classes have been with Tamara Rojo of the English National Ballet, Tiler Peck of New York City Ballet and Skylar Brandt of American Ballet Theatre. I have also done a lot of stretching, especially while watching Netflix and the Marvel Movies for the first time!”

Mental health has been a hot topic in recent months, and with dancers – and the rest of the world – facing new hardships, it’s vitally important that people find time to take care of themselves. “I realize now more than ever how important mental health is,” says Cavaco. “For a part of the pandemic, I really worried that I would lose my identity as a ballerina. Not knowing when I would perform again, if companies would cut contracts for the upcoming season, if would get out of shape, and if I would lose my technique and strength all made my anxiety skyrocket. For a few weeks, I took a much-needed break and only did class when I really felt like it. I was able to heal some underlying injuries, and it gave me some peace of mind.”

Cavaco also cites fresh air and fitness as antidotes for feeling down. “When I am feeling anxious, I will go on a hike, set my hammock up between two trees, read in a park, go on a walk, go to the beach, or put a blanket out and do some yoga. Being outdoors and taking time to be away from social media really helps keep my mind at peace. I have also found that buying plants or flowers whenever I was overwhelmed really helped. I do have a lot of plants now, though!”

For Bulle, it’s been about finding new ways to fill her time. “Focus on new hobbies and interests rather than what you feel you're missing out on,” she suggests. “It's important to remind yourself that everyone is in the exact same position and is dealing with the same struggles; you're not alone. Keep in good contact with your friends and family; they will be a huge part in helping you through this difficult time.”

Taking the opportunity to learn new skills has certainly been a source of positivity for many dancers who have been unable to perform. “I have already begun my life after ballet,” shares Bulle. “I am fascinated by the tech world and would love to be able to create something to bring more advancement to the arts involving tech. So, I have started learning coding!”

“I have been super creative during the pandemic,” agrees Cavaco. “I got a dance agent, so I have done a ton of virtual auditions, self-tapes and casting calls. I often get an email the day before saying they want me to choreograph a one- to two-minute dance piece and perform it for casting directors the next day over Zoom. It has really pushed me to be creative, and it is always a bit challenging doing it in such a little space in my living room. I have also done a ton of art! I made a bunch of dried flower resin art pieces and did a lot of painting. I am currently working on some ballet-inspired sculptures, so I'm excited to share more about that soon!”

Brittany Cavaco

Of course, another positive to come out of this challenging time is the way the industry has come together like never before. “It has been amazing to see how quickly the entire dance community around the globe adapted to our ‘new normal’,” Cavaco concurs. “Companies and schools encouraged dancers to dance in their home, challenged them to create and choreograph and to use this as a time to grow. And as the BLM protests took a significant forefront, it was so beautiful to see the dance community come together and demand that dance become more diverse. Many, many brands have promised to provide pointe shoes, slippers, tights and dancewear that match the beautiful complexions of all dancers. I have always loved how Só Dança has made diversity a priority and offered their dancewear in all different shades of nude. Many dance brands stayed silent during this movement, and I was so proud to represent and work for a brand that spoke out and truly cares so much about making a difference in the dance community.”

“I hope this pandemic helps speed up a shift to make arts more accessible to everyone,” agrees Bulle. “The idea of featuring online showings of ballets and interviews with dancers about the roles they have performed and what it takes is such a fascinating thing that the world needs to know more about. Ballet and dance are such special and ever-changing art forms, and the support between the community has been really special. Making the best of this situation is all you can do, and I think the dance world has come together to create that mindset.”

As two So Dancers who radiate strength and positivity, both Bulle and Cavaco believe all dancers have something special that makes them especially resilient under pressure. “As a dancer, your body and mind are 100 percent your work,” explains Bulle. “It's almost like we all run our own private business, making executive decisions on how to better our personal position when given the opportunity. I think with that mindset, we are quite adaptable to change; we have so much drive and passion that we have to look at setbacks like we're experiencing now as just a bump in the road, and plan to come out better on the other side.”

“Dancers from such a young age are faced with constant criticism and rejection,” notes Cavaco. “Yet, we are so passionate and determined and just keep pushing toward our goals and dreams. We dance for hours every day in shoes that give us painful bunions, bruised toenails and blisters without a complaint. We have really thick skin! A dancer's career is so fragile and limited, so I think we all cherish every moment we have to dance, and it drives us. We will adapt to any situation and do whatever it takes to succeed.”

For those who are struggling, Cavaco has some sage advice. “Breathe. I know it feels really overwhelming right now, and it may even seem like everything you have worked so hard for is collapsing around you. Just remember you have survived 100 percent of your hardest days; you will get through this, too. Take this time to become the best version of yourself mentally, physically and as a dancer. If you have a huge mountain to climb to get to where you want to be, now is the perfect time to take the first steps! Don't forget to do things for yourself, too. Pick up a new hobby, find a good book to take your mind off things, take a nice bath, and give yourself an at-home spa night with a pint of ice cream. This has been a really tough and strange year. Believe me, I have struggled more days than not. You’ve got this, though!”

“Be kind to yourself,” adds Bulle. “Set small goals each day to provide some structure to your schedule, and remember it's okay to feel down and frustrated. Acknowledge it, and make a change to help yourself back up. Take it one day at a time. This isn't going to last forever.”

Bianca Bulle

We all hope that the pandemic will pass soon, and that life can return to some sort of normality. But meanwhile, the Show Must Go On. For Bulle, that means thinking outside the box. “Since the shows can't go on stage to thousands of live audience members, the phrase ‘the show must go on’ means it’s time to get creative and think of a new way to find fulfillment with your dancing. Create your own choreography, film it in different locations, teach others, or just dance full out at home for yourself, roommates or family.”

“Despite the circumstances, we must persevere,” Cavaco agrees.” We dancers always have to be on our toes and go with whatever life throws at us. When we were not allowed in the studios, we made the living room our studio. When theatres closed and shows were cancelled, we shared our art virtually. Our passion and our dreams are too big to give up on. I’m not sure what 2020 will throw at us next, but I do know that the show will go on.”

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