A Dancer’s Quarantine Diary: Coming Full Circle

A Dancer’s Quarantine Diary: Coming Full Circle

SANDY, Utah — For ballet dancers, normal life means dancing and sweating very close to one another for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week. Typically, morning company class at New York City Ballet looks as crowded as the 42nd Street subway station after two trains have passed by without stopping. For dancers, six feet apart rarely happens.

In this new life we’re all leading, we don’t have access to our usual studios, with their special floors, mirrors and ballet barres. And maybe the most challenging thing is that what we work toward day in and day out — live performance — is on an indefinite hold.

Like the rest of the world, we are trying to work remotely. But with our jobs it’s not as simple as moving from the big office desk to a home laptop.

I’ve found refuge in Utah, at my childhood home, which I left 20 years ago to pursue a dance career. I never thought I would end up back here for this long, but somehow it doesn’t feel weird. I think my retired parents are more confused by the new situation than I am! For me life has come strangely full circle: The living room where my brother, Robbie Fairchild, and I used to put on dancing shows to Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel albums has now become the best space for me to try to “work from home.”

Zoom has proven the go-to platform to connect, even in my physical industry; we are all communing together to take ballet class and do workout sessions to maintain the physical shape required for our jobs. The living room’s hardwood floor is not good for point work, unless I stand on a yoga mat, but I can do a semi-full ballet class in the open space, 10 feet by 13 feet. I hold onto the china cabinet for my ballet barre and try to work on my technique as usual.

Utah is as far away from New York City life as you can imagine, and usually the thought of spending weeks on end here would not be my idea of fun. But now it feels like a relief to be in a place where we have easy access to the outdoors, washing machines and family time, with my parents, husband and 17-month-old baby.

The dining room is set up as a work space for my husband on one end, while I edit YouTube ballet classes and interviews on my computer at the other — in between parenting, staying in shape, and doing Zoom classes and homework (I’m studying for an M.B.A. at New York University). With a baby, we are held to a certain schedule: My husband gets priority to work on weekdays, and I do most of my work on weekends, or when my daughter naps.

A day in my new life looks something like this:

  • Spend an hour or two on my accounting or firms/markets class for N.Y.U. Twice a week I participate in a three-hour school Zoom session. I’m finding it sobering to see us all at home, and get a little emotional each time I log on.

  • Record a ballet barre or interview a fellow dancer to post to my YouTube channel, or edit one from the day before. It’s my way to connect to dance, and give back in this time when we all have lost our ability to take class together.

  • Help my parents with their puzzles. Embarrassingly, I have puzzled so much in the last couple weeks, that a ballet neck injury started to resurface, and I have to do my old exercises before I can join in.

  • Choose two of the following a day for exercise: 30-minute run outside or elliptical inside; Pilates, GyroKinesis or yoga class online; a ballet barre or City Ballet workout, which the company offers through Zoom. It’s nice to see the “Brady Bunch” gallery view of my fellow dancers when we work out together.

  • Cook for my baby, and hope the food doesn’t all end up thrown on the floor. I’m definitely missing the snacks and meals her day care provided, which gave me two less meals to think about every day.

  • Sing and dance with my daughter. “Bounce Patrol” has been temporarily banned from our house, as we all have the songs stuck in our heads.

  • Put our daughter to bed, and chill with TV. My mom and I try to distract ourselves with a “Dateline” episode (we try to imitate Keith Morrison’s voice) or something completely ridiculous like “Tiger King.” Downstairs, my dad watches the sobering news, and my husband catches up on podcasts.

It’s easy to feel in a fog when you rarely leave the house, and I find if I don’t start the day with exercise, I really struggle to be fresh-minded and productive.

I’m still pacing myself with ballet classes as I see this as a long haul. In 2014, I took a year off from City Ballet to do “On the Town” on Broadway. During that time, I did most of my ballet barres on my own, in weird spaces just like now, and I know it gets old very quickly. For now, I’m finding motivation by filming my ballet barres and posting them on YouTube, offering corrections and things I think about while I’m working.

A week into social distancing, I made my first attempt as a ballet teacher on Zoom. The students were on the East Coast, positioned in their kitchens or bedrooms, holding on to a chair or dresser. The pianist was on the piano at home, and somehow, even with all the distance between us, I saw 12 girls in my gallery view, keeping time with the music and taking corrections. One girl skipped a combination to sit on the floor, later explaining in the chat that she had somehow stepped on the cactus in her room, and needed to remove a spine.

Managing this new routine with a toddler is a particularly chaotic juggle, but we are lucky to have four adults to spread out the responsibility. My husband and I joke that we are going to be here so long that our 1-year-old daughter will have to start kindergarten in Utah.

Having already taken a year out of my ballet career to join a Broadway show, and another year to have a baby, this break doesn’t make me panic as much as I know it would have in my younger dancing days. I have been able to release my grip on my ballet career twice, each time returning with a refreshed body and mind.

When you grind away at something so intensely, a little space can give you perspective and make you cherish it more. When, one day, we get to return to our regular studios, the feel of a regular Marley dance floor and perfectly situated barre — givens for a dancer — will never again be taken for granted.

I’m trying to focus on the silver lining of this incredible stopping of time. What can I catch up on? What have I never had time to do? How do I want to improve by the end of this?

For me it’s as simple as trying to come out of this moment of hibernation with a healed body, rested mind and the satisfaction of having spent lots of time with my baby.

I have no idea what they would be teaching her at day care, but we taught her “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” as well as how to clap and stomp to “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Managing this new routine with a toddler is particularly chaotic, but her ability to entertain us has become our greatest source of distraction in this isolating time.

Megan Fairchild is a principal dancer with New York City Ballet.

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