It takes more than pliés to lift a ballet company to great heights. From dancers to conductors, teachers to makeup artists, this blog series features fascinating insight from ABT experts and an intimate look inside America’s National Ballet Company®. Take a spot at the SideBarre each week to get to know the incredible people behind each bourrée of American Ballet Theatre.
The misfortune this pandemic has created is unparalleled. These circumstances are ubiquitous; they have affected every single human being in some way. However, in my opinion what is most mind-blowing is the dichotomous nature of our present state: the physical isolation and loneliness this virus has generated have also resulted in a widespread feeling of unification among people around the world. We can now empathize with one another more candidly than ever before. The only antidote to the stress and anxiety of flattening the curve is considering the greater good— it is impossible to ignore the welfare of our fellow humans.
Once we reach the other side of COVID-19, permeating our world with art will be vital to healing our collective brokenness. Art unites, inspires, empowers— we cannot do these things alone. The purpose of a dancer is to share stories with an audience; we dance FOR the audience. I think everyone is experiencing some hardship in not feeling the presence of a community. This is what I am most looking forward to once we conquer this virus: bringing people together and sharing with them something beautiful. In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to remind ourselves that there is indeed a community out there eagerly anticipating the return to normalcy.
For me, volunteering with New York Cares was an exceptionally heartwarming experience that did just that. It consisted of a relatively simple task: make calls to senior members of The Actors Fund to see how they are holding up. I came across many different personalities— some lively and spirited, others just frustrated and fed up with this pandemic. No matter their degree of responsiveness, every person I spoke with was appreciative of the opportunity to chat. The call was beneficial on both sides of the phone line. For them, it was a reminder that they are thought about, cared for, and have access to resources if needed. For me, it provided a sense of purpose that eased the helplessness quarantining has instilled. I was refreshed by brusque New York dialects and inspired by the voices of such well-seasoned artists. I was given hope by seeing that there is still good that can be done from my couch.
Most of all, I was reminded that my community, my New York, is still there, and none of us are alone. I am very much looking forward to volunteering for New York Cares again and would recommend it to anyone who is homesick for the city, in need of a pick-me-up, or just looking for a fun and fulfilling way to spend their time.
Remy Young joined ABT as a member of the corps de ballet in 2016.
My name is Rachel Richardson and I’m a dancer with ABT. I’m currently sheltering in place at home in Oregon since the Company stopped work in mid-March. Last week I had a chance to volunteer with my colleagues at ABT for The Actors Fund through a program called New York Cares. We were calling members of The Actors Fund over 60 years of age to check in and see if they needed support in any way. This was the second company-wide volunteering project through New York Cares, and I look forward to the next one! It was such a fun and rewarding experience that perfectly complimented the experiences I’ve been having at home.
I’m so grateful to be with my family in Oregon. I spend lots of my time outside (running, biking and hiking) in the beautiful nature of the Pacific Northwest, which I can easily do while staying socially distant. I started my first college course this spring through Fordham University, and I’m taking two other summer courses, so I’ve had plenty of schoolwork to do as well. I’ve also been teaching online dance classes and dancing in my house, outside and in studios I’ve been able to use. ABT has provided us with ballet and conditioning classes, and I’ve also been able to take online classes from a slew of other teachers and in a variety of styles thanks to the magic of the internet. I’ve been working on variations over Zoom with a former ballet teacher and doing in-studio socially distant work with my first ballet teacher here in Oregon. While these activities are all familiar to me (despite the new settings), the biggest change has been adjusting to family life.
I left home when I was 13 to attend a ballet boarding school in Philadelphia and haven’t been home for more than a few weeks at a time since. I feel like this time is really valuable to me, especially since it seems to be softening the individualism I’ve built up through my schooling and my time in NYC. It’s been especially fun having two foster sisters who came to live with us just last summer. I’ve really been getting to know each member of my family as an individual, separate from the “role” they play in the family. I can tell I was getting set in my ways of doing things, and this has been a great nudge to shift from a “me” centered life to an “us” centered life. I’ve always wanted to maintain a role in my community, and I’ve often looked for opportunities to volunteer in order to help with that. I volunteer regularly with my church, teach free dance classes and donate dance lessons to school auctions. I’ve helped organize and run youth events and have joined in on specific volunteer projects, like sourcing meals for low income NYC students and helping with the Broadway Flea Market. The best part has always been the people I meet and recognizing all the ways people are generous with their time and resources. While I used to feel like I should take every volunteer opportunity presented to me, I’ve realized that I have specific abilities and resources that are needed and that I enjoy giving, and I naturally want to help in those ways. Now when I’m presented with an opportunity, I’m either genuinely excited about it, or I feel confident saying it’s not right for me.
The opportunity with New York Cares sounded fun from the beginning because I’ve always loved meeting new people and engaging with members of the ABT family and the broader New York City community. I was surprised by the amount of action needed to prepare, which included two registrations, training sessions and a background check – all of this a testament to how committed and eager people are to help out. There were 14 of us from ABT volunteering that day and from the moment we began, I was filled with so much love for the people I work with. We started with a preparation call where each member introduced themselves and shared why they had chosen to participate; it was so unifying to hear the communal sense of gratitude for wellbeing during this time and a subsequent desire to help others. It’s always cool for the chance to interact with members from different departments within ABT. In addition to dancers, Orchestra musicians and two conductors, there were individuals from Administration, Education, Press, and Hair and Makeup. After briefing, we began calling the community members. My conversations were heartwarming. Each person I talked to shared how capable and healthy they felt, and that they were eager and grateful for the conversation. Everyone had unique and interesting stories and thoughts to share, and many mentioned how they were also looking out for others in need. When we joined the debrief at the end, I loved hearing how many meaningful conversations had taken place. We all agreed that making the calls had made us feel more connected, potentially with even more of a benefit to us than to those we called. I’ve felt similarly about my time at home; the opportunity to listen to others and consider how I’m contributing to the family teaches me so much and encourages me to grow.
While I’ve kept the goal of helping out my family while at home, it’s hard to say how much help I’ve been. It’s a definite learning curve with plenty of meltdowns on my end. However, like in the volunteering calls, I’m trusting that my presence at home has at least created a sense of connection for others as they have all been such a help to me. I do feel that I’m “shedding” my stubborn habits and character traits, and in return, I’m getting a greater sense of how special and valuable each and every individual is. I certainly felt that way with each person I talked to on the phone while participating last week. The value of connection has been a very universal lesson during this time. People seem to be learning it in a million different ways. It’s been great to learn more about how helping out is such a natural part of existing in a community. Being at home has taught me even more about the diverse ways people contribute.
Rachel Richardson joined ABT as a member of the corps de ballet in 2015.