IDEAS: Will DCDC dance on through the coronavirus?

This opinion piece by Crystal Michelle Perkins, an associate artistic director at Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, appeared on the Dayton Daily News Ideas and Voices page on Sunday, Aug. 9. Guest columnists were asked to reflect on how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted Dayton's arts community and what can be done to help. Other featured columns are linked below.

It takes a certain kind of rhythm to be exemplary at your craft, and the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply disturbed that rhythm for artists around the world.

For dancers at the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC), it means that we are navigating a glitch in the dailiness that talent of this magnitude requires.

Credit: Robert Robbins

Credit: Robert Robbins

Touch, nearness, breath, and access to space as a community are all requirements for our work. While social distancing guidelines keep us safe as humans, they cause disruptions in the way that we understand our craft of dancing.

Perhaps, disruption is the tool for surviving and thriving that has made DCDC the beloved cultural mecca for black arts and culture that it is for nearly fifty – two years.

Across the nation, dancers have lost their place to land and audiences have lost their place to witness that landing. It only took a matter of weeks for dance companies in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis to permanently close, making the management of the current disruption our central focus.

When the quarantine fell in March, we did not have the option to pause for any length of time. So, we did what we have done since 1968 — we carried on evolving and existing.

For us that means caring for our artists physically, emotionally, and economically, while thinking about the future.

In lieu of layoffs, we honored contracts with our artists through the end of the season, and continued to offer regular training sessions via digital meeting rooms.

We imagined and created new projects for the upcoming season, and extended the necessary grace and patience to each other through this space of evolution.

We changed the structure of our daily rhythm to make sure we were all cared for in ways that would see the organization, and its people , through this challenging time.

And our audience was invited to witness the journey via social media. In these times, it’s important to keep the family together, and that includes our administrative staff, audience, and supporters. Some things we’re thinking about:

1. Always focus on the artist and the art.

2. Use disruption as a space for invention.

3. Rise to the challenge to grow and evolve.

4. Care deeply about people.

This disruption has challenged dance companies across the globe to survive when there is no place for their gift to land. In turn, the performing arts field has been dropped into a storm of conversations that beg the question — When this is over, who will we be at the end?

The answer to that question lies in who you were at the beginning, and how you navigated all the storms along the way, from the civil rights movement to numerous economic downturns. DCDC has learned those very necessary survival tactics in real time, and since the pandemic, we’ve rediscovered that the key to survival is in our artistic DNA.

The only way through this disruption is together with the art at the center of our lives.

Crystal Michelle Perkins is an associate artistic director at Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and an Assistant Professor of Dance at Ohio State University.

About the Author