Dancing Through A Pandemic

Dancing Through A Pandemic

HALESTONE’S artistic director, Mauri Connors, teaches students at Natural Bridge Elementary last October as part of the studio’s partnership with local schools, which it hopes to resume pending schools’ safety plans.

Dancing Through A Pandemic

WITH INDOOR DANCE performances ruled out because of the ongoing pandemic, Halestone held an outdoor concert for graduating seniors earlier this month outside of the studio.

Dancing Through A Pandemic

SARAH CUNNINGHAM teaches a Halestone dance class via Zoom in May.

Dancing Through A Pandemic

LIZ BECKER teaches summer creative movement at a safe distance at the studio.

Halestone Students Get Ready For Outdoor Shows

The pandemic changed everything for everyone, but for Halestone dance studio, it didn’t stop the dancing.

Halestone moved to online classes in the spring and summer movement camps at its studio, thanks to support from local families and a recent general operating support grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

And now, it’s ready to showcase its dancers’ talents in-person once again – this time outside.

Originally slotted for April, Halestone’s recital concert, “A Celebration of Sound and Movement,” has been rescheduled for two outdoor performances on Friday, Aug. 28, and Saturday, Aug. 29, in the field at Boxerwood Nature Center. (See separate story for details.)

Mid-March, as schools and extracurricular activities confronted the developing realities of COVID-19, Halestone began taking its studio classes online for a “Dance at Home” program. As a studio committed to hands-on, quality instruction for all ages, this was a difficult but necessary decision, said Board President Ann Courtney.

“When we had to close, it was really important to us to continue offering classes to the best of our ability,” she said. “While Zoom dance classes aren’t ideal, they gave our students a chance to connect with their classmates and instructors while finding new ways to make art and dance.”

Halestone students enjoyed joining these weekly connections, despite dancing in living rooms. One company member shared, “Zoom classes gave a sense of normalcy during an uncertain time. They allowed me to see my friends when no one was going out. Plus, I got up and moved!”

Despite the pandemic, Halestone’s mission continues to foster the creative process and provide access to quality dance experiences in a nurturing environment, noted artistic director Mauri Connors.

Conners, who grew up dancing at Halestone, noticed during online instruction that “dancers are good at improvising, working with things that seem impossible. Dance is not only physical expression, but cognitive —thinking on one’s feet.”

To engage their youngest dancers, she tried everything from scavenger hunts for textures, objects, even sharing stuffed animals to “show and tell” ways bodies move, or to understand movement qualities, such as fluid, heavy, etc. Together dancers made traveling movement patterns. Reading movement cards visible from their instructor’s Zoom screen, students got one-on-one instruction as they selected, acted out, and sequenced their gallops, hops, skips into traveling moment patterns.

Guiding Halestone’s nonprofit through this time, while maintaining an inclusive artistic community has been a powerful learning experience for Connors.

“Figuring out how to meet our goals and student needs while physically separate has been challenging,” she said. “It has taken lots of interpersonal communication, dance classes aren’t ideal, it gave our students relying on the strength of existing relationships while building new ones. Adapting to online learning and wearing masks while dancing has shown me how Halestone’s focus on student agency and improvisational choice-making has truly prepared them for this moment.”

To support their growth, the Halestone Foundation recently received a general operating support grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, a state agency supported by the Virginia General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“This is the first time we have applied for a GOS grant. We’re grateful for this operating support as we find ways to further meet the dancing needs of our community,” said Connors.

Halestone was also awarded a VCA Artists in Education (AIE) grant to support growing partnerships with local schools, including Maury River Middle School, Natural Bridge Elementary, and Waddell Elementary. The AIE grant will support an after-school transportation plan to bus NBE and Waddell students to Halestone’s studio in Lexington for dance instruction.

Connors and fellow teachers have been traveling since 2017 to local schools to nurture these partnerships, offering dance during school and after-school enrichment. Twenty-first Century grants and local donors supported instruction. Pending school safety plans, Halestone hopes to resume these dance partnerships and begin their transportation program.

Halestone also plans to safely offer fall studio classes for youth and adults in jazz, modern, ballet, tap, clogging and choreography. Notes Courtney, “We look forward to both our Boxerwood concert and starting fall classes in a safe manner. We are extremely concerned with the health of our students, faculty and families, require masks, clean thoroughly, and limit class sizes. We welcome anybody new to dance, as well as inquiries about how to dance safely with us.”

Class information is available at https://halestone.com/2020-2021-dance-schedule/.

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