Zoom: Almost a Year of Teaching Ballet On-line

“Hi Guys, how are your bodies feeling? Can you hear me okay?” It’s Tuesday night just before 6:00pm and my students are joining my on-line class on Zoom. A couple of students log in from Hawaii from work on their lunch break, six hours behind New York. Others are in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut.

Earlier I prepared for class by selecting music and choreographing the combinations for each exercise. I put on tights, a leotard, matching skirt, and ballet slippers, and put my hair up in a french twist. I put on a little make-up. My classes are one of the only times I see people.

Earlier too, I had folded back the rug, swiffered the floor, and moved the cat things out of the dancing space. I cleared my countertops — my barre — and moved my work laptop for my day job into my bedroom. I turned on all the lights and put a white sheet across my oven and refrigerator so my black leggings are better visible to students on their screens. My set up includes a bluetooth speaker for the music I play from my phone, and a monitor on my counter that displays what is on the computer screen across the room so I can better see my dancers. I connected my laptop to an ethernet cable to avoid wifi snafus and signed in to Zoom. It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this three days a week for nearly a year.

I help one student with her turnout as other students are coming in. We talk about the difference between opening the legs and feet as far as they will go versus bringing the toes in just slightly so we can learn to control the turn out from the muscles deep in the hip sockets. “The ego is a dangerous thing,” I remind her. Hearing this, another student segues to tell me he started physical therapy and they told him to do several things I had been telling him to do including specific exercises. “I’m glad you’re going now and you’ll get better, but forgive yourself for not listening to me the first time,” I tell him, “it’s only human.”

After we warm up with exercises at the barre — or chair, or wall, or kitchen counter, I teach them an Adagio — a slow dance followed by a turn combination. Other days we work on “jumps” that I modify with releves — to be mindful of downstairs neighbors. At the end of the hour-long class we stretch. The song I choose is from Legends from the Fall which inspires a lively post-class conversation about what shows to watch on Netflix.

When Covid closed Liberated Movement last March, the donation based dance studio where I had been teaching, none of us knew how long this would go on. A few students reached out in early April to see if I planned to teach on-line and in the middle of April I started, hoping it would work. Luckily I had bought an apartment that made that possible on March 4 (talk about marching forth!), moving in on March 18th, just as the city clanged shut.

Teaching online is a lot different than teaching in the studio. I can’t mold their arms with my hands or grab a leg to allow a hip to relax. Everyone is muted, so there isn’t the familiar back talk, and my jokes hang in silence. At least I don’t have to yell to be heard. Still, it’s a bit like doing standup in front of a totally dead audience. I have come to decipher their small smiles or nods (or eye rolls, let’s be honest) in lieu of laughter. Like in the studio, I do every dance with my students and say the combination aloud as we do them. I talk almost non-stop when I teach, giving compliments more often than corrections, and I often wonder what my neighbors think. I tend to get really excited (and loud) when the dancers get something right. When we dance away from the barre—what used to be called “in the center”, and now just means in the same spot but not holding on—I face away from the computer so they can follow me and I watch them on the monitor on the kitchen counter in front of me. It is miraculous to watch them learn and grow week by week. I’m proud to say some of my beginners learned pirouettes via zoom.

It is work to stay inspired during this time, but I try in various ways. When RBG died, I made an RBG playlist and we danced to pop music. I think we did frappes to ‘It’s the End of the World as You Know It’. During the summer and glorious fall, I taught some classes in Battery park and I choreographed a large group dance that was a joy to perform together in the round outdoor space we found under the trees. During December we did snippets of several different Nutcracker variations. I often watch ballets on YouTube, sharing them with my students to keep them inspired too. But it is different dancing at home. Because we can’t do big leaps or work on large sweeping movements that would be treacherous in our New York (or other city) apartments, we have to be content with working on the smaller things. Whenever I choreograph a dance, I have to be mindful of the space we are in—I can’t have us doing steps that continuously move us forward or backwards, I have to do some of each or we’ll run out of room. We end up doing a lot of turns. For the moment, we have to dance in place.

~ Sarah

Want to dance with me? You can! I teach donation based ($10 suggested, pay what you can) open level ballet three days a week. Tuesday and Thursday 6-7pm Eastern. Saturday 12-1. Email me for more information: scdoudna@gmail.com.

2 comments

  1. What a delight to catch up on what you are doing. Each step, twist, turn is important. Your ability to teach ballet via zoom amazes me.
    Jonell (from FCCB)

    Liked by 1 person

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