March marks one year since the official start of pandemic-related closures, and many are looking forward to a healthy and (hopefully) vaccinated 2021. That's especially true for the dance community, as the arts industry as a whole has been near-halted over the last 12 months. But with new hope in sight—live theater is scheduled to return to New York soon, under restrictions, of course—many are choosing to bring certain aspects from the past year into their "new normal."
In an industry built on momentum and enthusiasm, the past year has given dancers and other artists the time for self-reflection and growth in unimaginable ways. Not to mention how much the dance community has transformed over the past year, from pivoting to virtual classes—which make training accessible to a broader audience—to opening up important conversations around race, equity and diversity.
As the one-year COVID-19 anniversary rolls around, we spoke with five dancers about what they're most grateful for, and the hope they're holding on to moving forward.
For Paloma Garcia-Lee, the past 12 months can simply best be described as transformative.
"I am so excited to see the art that will come out of this," she says. "As I continue to delve into my own humanity, my artistry is growing so much. I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for this time and the opportunity to be able to define ourselves without job titles. I think it's such an important thing to look at who I am as an artist, when I'm not filming the movie, or when I'm not on Broadway."
And in that time, Garcia-Lee has discovered that her dreams are bigger than she ever realized, making the transition to focusing on bringing her storytelling skills to TV and film.
"I am truly bubbling. My dreams are bigger now than they've ever been, which is so exciting to feel 12 years into my career. I'm really running full force towards these fresh new goals, and I am so excited to expand and share my dance talents and storytelling talents on the big screen."
She adds, "We've seen throughout history that the most beautiful art comes out of those dark times. So if we continue as artists to recycle our pain, and turn our hardships into art and opportunity, and into telling our stories and using our voices in that way, I just think the sky's the limit."
"Before COVID, I was always on the go: I was always on a flight, next job, go teach here, go there—I never had time to slow down and really take care of myself, or my friendships and relationships," says Hannahlei Cabanilla, Season 15 winner of "So You Think You Can Dance."
Cabanilla's situation is similar to those of many within the dance community who, in fear of missing an opportunity, push themselves to unsustainable extremes. But over the past 12 months, Cabanilla has been able to reconnect with her body and even further with her artistry.
"Since moving back home at the start of the pandemic, I created a pre-professional dance team, OC PRO, with my co-worker Amy Berokoff, and through that, I've found a new love for being a choreographer and teacher."
Social media has played a role in Amanda LaCount's success over the past few years, skyrocketing her career to new heights, whether on "America's Got Talent" or in Rihanna's "Savage X Fenty Show." And despite being locked at home for the past 12 months, the young star has used that time to grow her community even more, reaching dancers and young artists who are craving her message of passion and body acceptance.
"When I moved here, I only had 400 followers, and I have always been so appreciative of everyone who's ever supported me," LaCount says. "And now that I've been able to grow on TikTok to almost 400,000 followers, I'm just so grateful."
She adds, "You never know how much impact you may have on someone, and I always try to remember that, because I've heard so many crazy stories of people who have come across my pages, they literally say it's changed their life or inspired them in some way. And that makes everything I've gone through worth it."
With social media as the only form of communication LaCount—and many fellow dancers—has at the moment, she's incredibly thankful for the conversations she's been able to have online to help further the dialogue around inclusivity in dance. Because every body is a dancer's body, and that's a fact that more people need to grasp.
"Meditation has been a huge instrument for me over the past year," says Barton Cowperthwaite, star of Netflix's "Tiny Pretty Things." "It's so easy to get caught up in thought patterns that have negative effects on us, so I'm trying to recognize that they're just thoughts and that they don't define me, and I choose to focus on other things."
In addition to having the space to grow as an artist, Cowperthwaite is grateful for the activism that's grown within the dance community over the past year, and hopes the momentum continues going forward.
"There's usually so much happening in the media and world that there's been so much overstimulation, but really, during the pandemic, it's shined a light on everything that we need to work on as a community, as a world and as a country," he says. "Heading forward, hopefully now the arts can come back, science can prevail, and we can move forward with a lot more racial equality, gender equality, while still learning more every day."
Gian Carlo Perez
"Despite everything, we're still allowed to dance and portray something, even just for ourselves," Perez says. "As dancers, we are so powerful that we sometimes forget about it."
Over the past 12 months, Perez has delved further into videography and collaboration, creating a series of dance-centered videos—available to watch on his Instagram—that emphasize the beauty of this art form, while reminding us all that whether on a stage, in our bedrooms or standing alone on the subway platform, we can always dance for ourselves.
He adds, "I've finally been able to see out of my own bubble. There is so much beauty outside, and we can make something out of that. I think that's our superpower."