Quarantine has been a roller coaster, to say the least. Some of us were determined to keep dancing no matter what—whether in our living rooms or in our bathtubs—and dancing outside became the new norm. Some of us noticed that we were burnt out, and lost motivation to dance completely while being stuck at home. And others used their newfound free time to discover and develop passions and hobbies beyond dance.
For those of us who could still use a little inspiration, we chatted with three professional dancers about the hobbies they've been taking on during the pandemic, what made them dive into it, and how they feel it just might be connected to dance after all.
Cooking with Stephan Azulay, second soloist at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Travis Ross, courtesy Azulay
Dance Spirit: When did you first realize your love of cooking?
Stephan Azulay: It's been an important part of my life since I was a child, but I started cooking a lot more when I moved to New York, mostly to save money. Then I got to Vegas and started picking up food jobs on the side, at restaurants and bakeries. It's definitely been a great way to make extra income, but it's also a passion, and a creative outlet.
DS: At what point in quarantine did you start to dive into it?
SA: Before we came back to work, I was doing a lot of private dinners, mostly for friends, where I'd go to their house and cook a tasty menu. But after experiencing a second lockdown in Winnipeg, I needed to do something creative.
That's when I thought "I want to make croissants!" But you can't just make one croissant, so I made a post on Instagram asking if anyone wanted any. 30+ responses came rolling in, and before I knew it, I was making 100 croissants a weekend, which is outrageous!
Then we came back to work, and I kept doing it, up until the point where my mixer broke—which is probably a good thing because it's pretty busy at the ballet, and we're going full steam ahead.
DS: How do you balance being a dancer and being in the kitchen?
SA: It's definitely tough. In the early days of the pandemic, I started selling baked goods. That was a bit too much because making something like croissants takes about three days, so I'd start on a Friday, work all day Saturday, and bake it on Sunday. And that was my rest time from dancing. So, I've definitely improved how I balance my dancing and resting time, because even though making croissants isn't necessarily physically demanding, you're still on your feet all day.
DS: What made you decide to start the @cookwithsaz IG page?
SA: Mostly my friends telling me I should start a food page. I used to have it all on one Instagram, but it's become a good way to compartmentalize all my food content, and also doubles as a portfolio.
I also did a piece with our local paper about baking, which was really cool. A couple of food people in town reached out, got some croissants—and you know how Instagram goes: One person posts something, and then everyone's talking about it.
DS: How are cooking and baking similar to ballet?
SA: Michelin-star chefs are so hard-core about everything they do, and everything has to be the best. It's kind of similar to ballet in that way; you're really trying to perfect the technique.
In the working environment, the kitchen can sometimes be very similar to a ballet company, where there are moments of high pressure. In a busy high-end restaurant, orders are flying in, there's no time for mistakes, and you have to be present.
There are also some crazy head chefs just yelling and exploding at their sous-chefs or line cooks. Same with ballet. But I think both the kitchen and ballet cultures have gotten a bit better over time. We're not stuck in those crazy "destroy your dancers' mental health" days anymore.
DS: Got any other unexpected projects (inside or outside of dance) that you're working on?
SA: Inside of dance: We just filmed Swan Lake, and we're doing Magic Flute at the moment.
Outside of dance: I collaborated on a project called Afterglow, with a French-Canadian artist named Rayannah. It features myself, a contemporary dancer, a drag artist, a contortionist and two musicians.
It streamed virtually, but hopefully we can perform it in front of live audiences soon.
Web design and marketing with Maya Kazzaz, freelance musical theater performer
Jon Taylor Photo, courtesy Kazzaz
Dance Spirit: When did you first realize your love for digital branding and web design?
Maya Kazzaz: In high school, I was debating whether to jump into a dance career, go to school for dance, or do something completely different, and ultimately I decided to study marketing and global business. I was always trying to find a way to combine arts and my passion for marketing and design.
In college, I started taking coding and graphic-design classes just to meet some requirements, and it ended up being the perfect way to bridge my analytical and creative sides.
DS: What made you decide to start a business out of it and create the @makeyourmarkbym IG page?
MK: I wanted to erase this narrative of "the starving artist" and help people become successful entrepreneurs and CEOs. What's really cool is that I got to work with a lot of artists that have started businesses during COVID and help them build it using my marketing knowledge in an artistic way.
DS: What's on your web design playlist? Are there any songs that make you want to get up and dance?
MK: Sometimes, if I'm working on a really big project, I'll make a playlist curated to the theme. That way, every time I'm working on it, I can really get into a specific mood.
Also, if I sit for too long, that dancer in me tells me to get up and move. "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)," by Natalie Cole, always makes me want to dance.
DS: How would you say design is similar to dancing?
MK: The creative processes are really similar. Getting an idea is the same starting point for both design and dance. In both mediums, there are so many ways that that idea can turn visual. Then, you're forced to pick which way to go. Picking a dance style and a song is the same as picking a design aesthetic and a color palette. As you go down these separate roads, more and more things are discovered, and a collaborative final product comes out of it.
DS: What would you say to a dancer who's afraid to branch out of dance?
MK: It might feel like you're giving up on your dreams, but I'd encourage you to just go for it—and do it before you're ready. It won't take away from you as a dancer. It'll actually highlight your versatility.
Painting with Alexander Peters, principal dancer at Miami City Ballet
Peters performing Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering (Daniel Azoulay, courtesy Peters)
Dance Spirit: When did you first realize your love of painting?
Alexander Peters: I had taken some art classes as a kid and always enjoyed it, but most of my artistic endeavors outside of ballet went to the wayside once I began taking my ballet training more seriously.
About three years ago, my husband moved away for school, so I was living alone for the first time in a while. I started painting a little here and there to help pass the time on my own, mainly with smaller ideas, and over time the pieces I was creating grew in size and scope.
DS: At what point during quarantine did you start to really dive into this hobby?
AP: Since I already had this hobby prior to quarantine, it was just a matter of how many hours I began to devote to it. This was really the first time that I had hours and hours, especially with natural light, to work and create things. Normally, I'd be rehearsing during the day and performing in the evenings.
DS: What made you decide to start your @a.peters.painting IG page?
AP: I actually don't recall when I started the page, but a friend had said that I should share my work, so I decided to post a few things. From there, it sort of just happened, and there seemed to be an interest in seeing what I was creating.
DS: What songs do you often find yourself dancing to in your art studio?
AP: This is constantly changing. But lately, I like to listen to Bach, Phoebe Bridgers and Jessie Ware.
DS: In what ways would you say painting is similar to dancing?
AP: When you look at the work of abstract expressionist artists, you can see exactly how the paint was applied, and there's a lot of movement within the composition to their work. I'm also very interested in the spatial relationship between colors and shapes on a canvas, in the same way choreography works onstage.
DS: Got any other unexpected projects (inside or outside of dance) that you're working on?
AP: I'm currently painting these large wooden pantry boxes for an organization here in Miami called Buddy System. It was started last March during early COVID by a colleague of mine at MCB, to help people get groceries and other necessities when they're unable to due to illness, financial instability or other reasons. Now they have community fridges and pantries for communities in Miami that are still struggling to get by. Other local artists have painted the fridges and boxes as well, so they provide not only nourishment for the body, but for the soul by bringing food and art together.