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IU Ballet Department transitions to ‘masked ballet’ due to COVID-19



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Senior Alex Jones practices Sept. 23 in the Musical Arts Center. The ballet department has adjusted to COVID-19 guidelines by reducing studio capacity, reducing group sizes and enforcing social distancing. Izzy Myszak

Weeks before spring break this year, the IU Ballet Theater department was preparing for Cinderella, the first full-length ballet choreographed entirely by a faculty member. The project was a particularly heavy undertaking, and rehearsals were extended to meet the high demands of the ballet.

The ballet students rehearsed from 11:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. almost every day for two months, junior Morgan Jankowski said.

“It was really insane,” Jankowski said.

When initial worries about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic began, the department was concerned about finishing the ballet. But plans to perform at the end of the year were still underway with talk of moving some of the instruction online.

“The final week before spring break was more intense than the previous rehearsals had been,” Jankowski said. “They essentially finished an entire ballet in a week.” 

When it was confirmed IU would be finishing the semester online, the production of Cinderella was canceled indefinitely and the ballet department began the transition to online classes.

As IU prepared for the fall semester, the ballet department had to strategically organize instruction. The small size of studios, relatively large size of the program and interactive nature of ballet all became obstacles to overcome.

“They were like ‘essentially it’s going to be very different, you're coming into a different Jacobs and ballet department than the one you know,’” Jankowski said.

This semester, the ballerinas' schedules consist of technique class over Zoom, which has been the biggest adjustment. However, the Jacobs School of Music facilitated adaptations by providing students with important materials, such as a piece of dance floor to each student, junior Nadia Tomasini said.

“We are very fortunate because that piece of equipment is very expensive,” Tomasini said.

Besides ballet over Zoom, the students also attend in-person class in the studios with reduced capacity. Each dancer has their own designated bar and warmup spot that is consistent throughout the year. The dressing rooms have been closed and dancers are only allowed in the studio 15 minutes before class.

Students also have designated 9- by 9-foot dancing spots. Students are responsible for sanitizing their own space, and they are completely masked the entire time. There is also no physical contact between dancers and instructors.

Preparing to dance with a mask was especially challenging, given the athletic rigor of ballet, Tomasini said.

“There’s different ways to prepare for dancing with a mask,” Tomasini said. “My main concern was the cardio aspect.”

Tomasini prepared for masked ballet by running in a mask this summer.

“Our ballet director also suggested wearing our masks at home to get a feel for what it would be like to keep it on while we danced,” Tomasini said. “But honestly it's not as bad as it seems.”

It can be challenging to keep masks properly positioned due to the constant movement that ballet requires, Tomasini said.

With performances looking different this semester, dancers have also had to adapt to taking advantage of modified spaces, such as outdoor performance spaces. The First Thursday performance earlier this month on Sept. 3 was held outside in the Conrad Prebys Amphitheater, one of the IU outdoor venues. Masks were kept on the entire performance.

A lot of uncertainty still remains as the dancers approach spring semester. The possibility of holding performances is the main concern, as these are integral to the dancers’ education.

“As of now we’re really hopeful, but you never know,” Tomasini said. 

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