Social Dis-Dancing: Moving Towards a Cure
The pandemic hasn’t managed to halt all freedom of movement. As International Dance Day (29th April) approaches, an annual UNESCO-supported event which works to recognise the significance of dance’s social and educational impact, it seems appropriate to reflect on how the role of the performing arts has evolved in the last 12 months.
It’s reported that symptoms of depression, worry and loneliness all increased by up to 66% during the pandemic, in comparison with pre-COVID-19 levels. We were all isolated from our normal lives; we received very little guidance on how to adjust. It was a ‘head first, cross your fingers’ kind of attitude adopted by the nation as we struggled to adapt to the new way of life demanded by the lockdown. The mental health impacts of the pandemic have been felt by, or can be understood by, everybody; regardless of whether we were previously experiencing these symptoms or not.
Following the UK lockdown in March, dance schools and performing arts facilities were forced to shut their studios. This left nearly 30% of 11-15 year olds, and 25% of 5-10 year olds who actively take part in dance activities in the UK isolated from their friends, routine, and their access to expert teaching and facilities. So, what did the performance industry do?
Adapt, evolve, and overcome, darling.
Zoom reported an increase of nearly 300 million daily meeting participants during the full-lockdown period, as many dance instructors and schools closed their doors and opened their laptops. Online timetables went live, dining chairs became ballet barres, and people performed on screens rather than stages.
One study suggests that a minimum of 15 minutes of cardio, or 1 hour of gentle exercise, can reduce the risk of major depression by 26%. The consistency and familiarity of dance classes, of:
- connecting with friends,
- maintaining technique,
- having routine,
- burning calories,
- and increasing endorphins
offered a mental and physical lifeline to all dancers; whether they be professionals or 5-year-olds. As schools shut and holidays were cancelled, for many people these online classes were the only thing they had to look forward to amongst all the uncertainty of the pandemic.
It isn’t just pre-pandemic dancers who benefitted from the online shift. Most dance schools have reported an increase in sibling, parental, or completely new starters’ engagement in their online classes. The nationwide evidence for this can be found in Joe Wicks and the enthusiasm from home-schooling parents and isolated 17 year-olds alike for his daily, virtual PE lessons. The YouTube star amassed over £10 million through increased engagement with his content over the lockdown.
However, we should endeavour to remember the lessons we’ve learnt from the pandemic in the future. Professionals, whether they’re within the performing arts or work for an advertising company, should aim to remember the lifeline daily walks or virtual gym-classes provided us in our darkest months. 1/3 of UK professionals suffer from anxiety or depression and, as aforementioned, exercise can act as a huge part of recovery and prevention from mental health problems.
So, why not run a weekly yoga class for your office? If the pandemic has taught us anything its that industries are far more flexible that we perhaps once thought. You could start by all following a YouTube guide together on Zoom, and in a years’ time you could be bringing your yoga mat to the office with you. Healthy workers are better workers, stable workers are better workers, and focussed workers are better workers. It’s in everyone’s best interests to find the time to exercise and recharge.
Exercise and Mental Health
Has the nature of performing arts changed forever? I think dancers and performers are itching to get away from their computer screens and back to their studios and stages. However, the last year has created a legacy for the exercise and arts industries as becoming the lifelines of the nation.
When we were in crisis, the arts were there for us; and they always will be.