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Interview with Dancer, Amber Scott – Staying Healthy and Connected during COVID-19

We chatted to ASPAH Ambassador Amber Scott about how COVID-19 has affected her. She discusses her thoughts on the crisis and shares ideas and strategies for performing artists to stay healthy and connected.

How has the coronavirus crisis affected you as a professional performing artist so far?

The immediate change was a sudden stop of our season of “Volt” with The Australian Ballet, followed one week later by the move to working from home, once the government announced gym and indoor sporting activities need to cease. It was a strange feeling to have worked so hard collectively for many months to stage the triple bill and then to close the night after the premiere. The dancers are all doing class from home, setting up our small dance spaces amidst furniture, pets and children. We stream a class daily that is lead by one of the ballet staff who at this point are still allowed into the studios to film. While the change in pace and adjustment to the new “normal” is still novel, everyone seems to be coping very well with the major change in our lives.

However there is a great deal of uncertainty about when we will be allowed to perform again and what that repertoire will be. I suspect as this time of isolation lengthens our personal motivation and discipline will be put to the test. It feels as though someone has hit pause on life. For dancers, time is so precious, so fleeting you don’t want to waste a moment. I really feel for many young dancers, pre or newly professional that were really pushing to achieve their dreams when this all happened. At a time when the planet is facing such a serious health issue, to despair over the closing of a season seems a little selfish, but I think the many emotions dancers will feel are all valid.

Are you exploring any alternatives for staying connected to your art and to your audience during this time? Do you have any suggestions for other dancers?

Thank goodness for the internet! I have already spent way more time than I normally like on my devices learning how to work new programs such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. My plan is to do our company online class daily, but then also watch a lot of other teachers around the world taking their own remote classes as a learning tool.

I have been updating my “working from home” situation on my social media account and subsequently have had this aired on ABC breakfast television! After this happened I received a lovely message from a ballet supporter who has a barre that she wants to lend to my husband Ty (fellow principal artist of TAB) and I so that we can use it instead of our dining chairs weighted down with potting mix.

Dancers at Home: Amber Scott takes Virtual Morning Class

In case you missed it … here's Principal Artist Amber Scott taking morning class from her garage!

Posted by The Australian Ballet on Sunday, 29 March 2020

There is a lot of kindness coming from the community in this time, it has allowed us to use social media to make some really warm connections. I’ve been told that Marquee TV is a great Arts Channel to stream, it has lots of amazing performances to watch to keep us inspired in this time off.

I’m also really interested to see how full time ballet schools cope with this time off. I am associated with both the ABS and the National Theatre Ballet School in Melbourne, both of which have full-time diploma courses. The logistics for educators across the country to deliver classes to students remotely is huge and with ballet in particular the challenges are even greater.

What strategies are you using to take care of yourself during this time of uncertainty and isolation?

My 17 month old daughter Bonnie is my biggest “strategy” for keeping a routine! She is awake early and likes her daily schedule of sleeping, playing and snacking. Ty and I have woven our ballet and body conditioning plan around her routine so that we maximise the time she is resting and then when she is awake we get the joy of spending more precious time with her.

In so many ways I am enjoying this new pace of life. We are not sitting in the car commuting before work, instead we are doing pilates and conditioning in the comfort of our lounge room before immediately shifting into the garage where we do class. Following class we put on our sneakers and head to the local oval where we can do a bit of cardio with safe social distancing. The benefits of fresh air, sunshine, rest and good nutrition are so important in this time where we all need to stay as healthy as possible. 

Our boss, David McAllister has been such a great leader in this time of uncertainty. He is endlessly positive and has encouraged us to focus on using the time to heal any injuries, to really commit to the strength programs our medical team have prescribed and to enjoy the joys of not constantly performing and travelling.

I’m also making the most of this time at home by studying as much as possible for my Graduate Diploma of Elite Dance Teaching with The ABS. So far I have done a few skype sessions and caught up on a lot of homework. Many elements of the course are designed to be completed when we are on tour in Sydney (which would have been now) so I am still able to complete them distantly from my home. 

My husband and I have also been rehearsing for a piece that is being created by our friend Danielle Rowe remotely. It will be snippets of dancers all around the world dancing the choreography we have learnt via Vimeo and then edited together to create an online work. The creativity of this art form with find many new pathways during this time.

Do you have any other comments to make regarding the current crisis in regard to performing arts healthcare?

At the moment I think a lot of dancers around the world are really focused on staying fit while in isolation and doing as much physical work as they possibly can. This is awesome and I can see from the amount of online ballet classes we will not be at a loss for inspiration. I do think it is important that we remember to look after ourselves mentally during this time as well. To not panic, to be calm and accept the situation for what it is. To find other talents, to enjoy the small treasures the world offers while we have temporarily hopped off the busy conveyor belt of life.

I think dancers thrive off the energy of their peers so it’s important to find ways to connect and support each other. We have been doing messenger “coffee” chats before class with our friends as you normally would when warming up for the day. Tomorrow Adam Bull is planning to run the daily quiz via MS Teams as he normally does each lunchtime in our common room. Nearly everyone I know has been on the Houseparty app which I had the joy of testing out last night. I had the best “party” catching up with my friends all over Australia on the call and afterwards I could feel how much my spirits had lifted. We all said “we should have been doing this for ages, its awesome!”

To be honest I feel as though I have had a lot of practice to be prepared for this time in isolation. Many years of rehabilitating injuries, being separated from my peers who were on tour performing. Going on long service leave and working out how to keep ballet fit in hotel rooms for 3 months. Having a baby is also like an “isolation” project. You lose your sense of normal, your dancer identity and are pretty much housebound! But this time is different, this time the whole world is in it together.

I send strength and health to dancers everywhere and hope that we keep our collective energy and support of each other during this time for as long as it lasts.

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