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Louisville Ballet Dancers Return To Work For A Season Like None Other


It's pretty obvious by now what it takes for workplaces to open safely - obvious, even if it's hard. Can desks be spread out, surfaces kept clean? Can you avoid big crowds at the elevator? How's the ventilation? Well, if you work as a dancer, the questions get harder. WFPL's Stephanie Wolf reports on how Louisville Ballet is preparing for the fall.

STEPHANIE WOLF, BYLINE: Louisville Ballet dancer Leigh Anne Albrechta never thought her dance career would involve shopping for the perfect face mask, but masks will be just as much a part of her daily routine as her pointe shoes.

LEIGH ANNE ALBRECHTA: I am now quite comfortable in a mask.

WOLF: Comfortable in a mask, but still a little on edge about returning to in-person rehearsals for Louisville Ballet's virtual season.

ALBRECHTA: It's a really split thing between being super excited to, like, have a job and get back to feeling like you're doing something that you're kind of put on this earth to do. But at the same time, there's a lot of fear and anxiety behind it.

WOLF: There's the fear of getting COVID, plus fear of how the measures to reduce that risk will drastically alter the day-to-day. Artistic Director Robert Curran says the general rule this season might feel a bit curt.

ROBERT CURRAN: Basically, get in, dance and then get out.

WOLF: Curran says dancers will have to pass health surveys before entering the building. The 20-plus Louisville Ballet dancers will be broken up into two groups to minimize contact, and studio doors will stay open for better airflow.


WOLF: Then after an hour and a half, dancers have to leave for 20 to 30 minutes. Ballet is high-contact, but Curran says there won't be any touching, at least for the immediate future. The Louisville Ballet School hosted a socially distanced summer program and say they had no outbreaks. Curran says he learned a few things from the faculty on that.

CURRAN: Make sure that you have, you know, scenario-slash-contingency-planned your butt off.

WOLF: Dancers across the country are heading back to work with strict COVID protocols. Companies from Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle to Sarasota Ballet announced virtual seasons, working with small groups of dancers to create socially distanced pieces. Kat Bower is the director of dance medicine with Miami City Ballet and co-hosts the podcast "Dance Docs."

KAT BOWER: We know that with dancers and anybody who's exercising indoors, the social distancing measures have to increase. So 6 feet isn't enough.

WOLF: Louisville Ballet will have dancers working 10 feet apart from each other. Bower says proper mask-wearing will also be key to dancer health. She urges dance companies to consider having dancers return to strenuous activity gradually and to be mindful of their mental health.

BOWER: Dancers do tend to live slightly in a world of higher anxiety.

WOLF: Louisville Ballet dancer Sanjay Saverimuttu says it feels good to be back in the studio with his colleagues, but he's had some anxieties. Earlier this summer, he wrote an essay called "I'm Scared Of Going Back" that speaks to his fears not about getting COVID but about other critical issues.

SANJAY SAVERIMUTTU: I'm scared I'll just be grateful to have a job. I'm scared they'll use this against me. I'm scared Black lives won't matter anymore. I'm scared our industry won't change.

WOLF: Saverimuttu, who identifies as Sri Lankan American, says he's glad the dance industry is talking about racial justice in the midst of nationwide protest, but he wants it to go beyond posting a hashtag.

SAVERIMUTTU: We're inviting Black students into our spaces. We're employing Black dancers, Black teachers, Black administrators. And that's also the same for racial diversity, gender diversity.

WOLF: Louisville Ballet has just one Black dancer, Brandon Ragland, though it did recently launch an initiative to address racial disparities in dance training. Sanjay Saverimuttu hopes, moving forward, the dance industry will work to address equity with the same rigor he's seen in the work to adapt to the pandemic.

For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Wolf in Louisville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephanie Wolf

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