The Unexpected Connection: Dancing in Cyberspace

By Margot Greenlee, Artistic Director, BodyWise Dance

If you had told me on March 1 I’d be wearing a face mask to pick up milk, pulling on gloves to pump my gas and limiting in-person contact to my children before the month was out, I’d have looked at you like you had three heads.

Well, here we are. 

The global coronavirus pandemic has drastically reshaped life in ten million ways which all of us are grappling with on a daily basis. Our livelihoods, our social ties, our daily logistics have all changed virtually overnight. Personally and professionally, the global ramifications are staggering. 

BodyWise Dance, the company I founded in 2012, is pivoting to meet these challenges. 

For years BodyWise Dance has produced original dance-theater works and led inclusive studio classes to support the development of life skills for adults with intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD). Some of our performers have I/DD; some do not. Our motto: “Dance Applied to Real Life.”

Initially I did not see how these inclusive practices would shift to the Web. But the connection and grounding I’ve found – and I hope the participants have also found – in daily movement/dance classes I’ve begun teaching via the Zoom application, to adhere to quarantine rules, has been illuminating and uplifting. 

If you’re not familiar with Zoom, it’s software that lets a group of people log into the same spot online to talk, learn – and in the case of Morning Moves, BodyWise’s newest class – move together listening to music that comes out of my bluetooth speaker and streams from their computers’ speakers. 

I didn’t quite know what to think when I decided to attempt to lead a movement class for people of all ages and abilities from my den using my laptop computer and my smart phone for music. I sent out an invitation to join the Zoom session to folks I thought might be interested, teed up a playlist, and logged on at the appointed time.

To my surprise and delight, others logged on too: clients I’d danced with for years via BodyWise Dance’s longstanding partnership with social services agency MVLE in Springfield, Va, friends of friends in Maryland, fellow choreographers in Moscow, an old friend in Mexico. Some were in wheelchairs, some standing, some seated. The youngest was about 12; the eldest I estimated to be in her 70s. The participants danced in their backyards while the sun poured down on them, in their apartments at dusk, in their kitchens and porches and living rooms. 

Just as I would do if we were all gathered in the studio, I demonstrated some simple movements we then strung together. I talked to the participants, gleaned new bits of choreography from their spontaneous dances, made eye contact with those who came close to their computer screens. 

“Dance to the best of your own ability,” I told them as I always do. “Dance in a way that feels good to you today. Maybe you need to stretch up toward the ceiling,” I said into my computer, demonstrating with my arms reaching high over my head, “or maybe you feel like curling into a ball.” I did that next, and watched the movement ripple out across the world as the participants followed my lead. 

Global borders and time zones dissolved. All of us shared the song, the movements, and the moment. It was thrilling, moving and fun. In the chat session afterward (Zoom has a feature where participants can talk to each other and/or write messages to the group), I could see that others had been as affected as I had been.

“I’m happier. I feel ready for the day!”

“It was good to see my friends.”

“I’ve been so stiff. Now my shoulders are able to move.”

“Play some J-Pop tomorrow!”

Since that first Morning Moves, our participant roster has only grown. Guest teachers have joined us. We’ve added Russian translators to help our ever-growing group of dancers from that country maximize their participation. We’re building new goals into the sessions, such as developing dancers’ ability to sustain eye contact and demonstrate flexible thinking. These goals will underpin a series of workshops BodyWise Dance is developing now that meet its core mission of using dance as a means of enhancing work, play and community life for adults with I/DD. We’ve secured funding from donors who are delighted with the early outcomes of our foray into online dance. 

I am astonished how well this is working. Sure, there can be sound difficulties or momentary freezes in the action when my Internet connection slows, but the benefits far outweigh these snafus. With the world on pause as the pandemic rampages, it is a sobering time to be talking about dancing together. And yet it is essential to these participants’ well-being, and to my own. 

As we find connection in these lonely, quarantined times, we support one another’s mental and emotional health. Even as the world tentatively moves toward “re-opening,” we are harnessing the power of an unexpected alternative to in-studio dancing. And we are learning every day what’s possible when we dance alone together.

Morning Moves login information can be found at www.bodywisedance.com

Participatory dance-making, civic dialogue, creativity – these are the foundation of Margot Greenlee’s choreographic vision. As a master teaching artist and founder of BodyWise Dance, Margot brings her artistic team of professional performers and arts therapists to lead programs in educational, healthcare, and corporate settings.

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