Dear Musical Theater Dancer Girl (the pandemic edition),
Wow. Wow. Wow. How times have changed. It’s been over a year since I last wrote to you. It was September of 2019 and we were in the midst of a mini fall audition season before gearing up for the big bad NYC hustle that happens January-April. Except this one would get cut short by a little ugly man named Rona.
I wanted to reach out to say that I miss you even though I see you almost every day on my little zoom screen. You’re doing the same movements I am but you’re about 3 seconds delayed on my end. And I want you to know that even in your tiny two inch by two inch square you look incredible.
In March they decided that the arts were non-essential. Everything we live for was deemed unsafe to stay open. And I agree with them, by the way. I think a global pandemic is no time for crowded dance studios with sweaty bodies or a packed theater with an audience of hundreds if not thousands. But while we may not be essential, what they didn’t say is how we are necessary. The work we do is necessary. Our existence is necessary. The money our art generates is necessary. In my last letter to you I wrote the following:
“But most importantly, I want to emphasize your value here in this city. The work you do makes a difference in the lives of people who get to watch you do it; it makes them feel joy, helps them heal from trauma, and touches their hearts without them even knowing why they’re so emotionally connected to an art form without words.”
I don’t want you to think for a second that the truth to this sentiment has somehow changed. It most certainly has not. If anything, the truth of these words has become that much more apparent. Our world needs to feel joy. We need to heal from this trauma. Our hearts need something beautiful to connect to. As dancers, as artists, we have the gift - no, the responsibility - to offer all of that to the world.
Last month I went to the doctor for my annual physical and flu shot. My doctor’s office is on 70th street on the Upper West Side. My appointment was at night. It was a beautiful October evening. The leaves were just starting to change. There’s something about fall on the Upper West Side that just feels like movie magic. I got off the subway and realized I had not been to this neighborhood, my favorite neighborhood in the city, since March. After my doctor appointment I was walking back towards the subway when I suddenly felt my feet take over and I realized I wasn’t walking back to the subway at all. I was walking right past it towards 74th street. I auto-pilot walked passed the line outside Trader Joe’s and the Sephora, slowed down outside Fairway Market and found myself standing in front of Steps on Broadway.
I tried to choke back the tears but they would not be stopped. Before I know it I’m standing outside this dance studio sobbing. I’m wearing my mask and my glasses, which is just a mess of a situation for someone who has a literal waterfall coming out of their eyeballs. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I was being passed on the street by tried and true New Yorkers who don’t bat an eye to even the most absurd public occurrences, my display of emotion would’ve caused people to stop and crowd around me.
When I was finally able to pull myself away from that spot, still unsuccessfully keeping my eyes dry, I starting thinking about all that we’ve lost during this time. Our spaces that have closed with no date of reopening and our spaces that have closed their doors forever. Our shared oxygen that we breathe in and out while we move our bodies as one. The creative opportunities and accomplishments that slipped away. The sense of momentum that we create as a group while we each barrel towards our unique hopes and dreams.
But I also thought about how much we’ve gained. Our sense of community that has not faltered, even for a day. The creativity that we’ve exuded as we figure out how to pivot through this together. The new spaces that we’ve taken over: living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, backyards, parks, parking lots, and quiet suburb streets. The incredible honesty and vulnerability that we’ve shared with one another when we dance choreography that hits just close enough to home.
In my last letter to you I expressed how much of an honor it is to be one of you, a musical theater dancer girl myself. As I write to you today I don’t even have the words to express how I feel about being part of this group. This community. Tribe. Family. Pack. Overwhelming gratitude.
I am giving you all a hug,