Kiwi dancers find new dreams in face of Covid-19

A career as a ballet dancer follows a lifetime of training; but as Covid-19 hit, it saw the narrow window of opportunity to get on stage close.

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A number have had international contracts pulled, while others on the cusp of a professional career have been sent home. Source: 1 NEWS

A number of aspiring professional dancers had international contracts pulled, while others on the cusp of a professional career were sent home - forcing many to rethink their dreams. 

Sian Dillon was among many forced to rethink their dreams.

The 20-year-old has dreamed of becoming a professional dancer since she was young; the sense of escapism and ability to connect with others giving her a sense of purpose. 

"Dancing is like absolutely the place where I feel the most like me." 

She was in her final year of professional dance training at Canada's Alberta Ballet School when the pandemic unfolded. 

"Very quickly after that things started happening in terms of lockdown measures," she recalled. "That automatically resulted in them telling those of us on more temporary visas we should consider going home, because no-one could see an end point." 

A year on and it is still hard to visualise the pandemic's end point - the uncertainty leading the young dancer to forge a path away from the dance world. 

"I am pursuing a conjoint degree in Chemistry, with Arts," she said. "I would like to go into drug design for disaster relief medicine." 

Most dancers who have spent much of their life vying know there are no guarantees, in an industry where competition for professional places is tough. But no one foresaw a pandemic taking away what little options they had. 

Meaghan Rowe is a co-director of The Classical Collab - an Auckland Youth Dance Theatre group. She's been working to give dancers opportunities to connect with people internationally, even as our borders remain closed. 

But she says it is tough for many dancers who were looking to make it professionally as the pandemic began.

"The nature of dance is that by the end of your school or training, you are making that decision as to whether you want to pursue an academic path or a dance path. 

"I imagine a lot of those dancers would have gone down the academic path last year because of the lack of opportunities." 

She says in a country like New Zealand, where there is one national ballet company, there are few roles available for the hundreds, if not thousands of dancers who dream of turning their lifelong passion into a career.

As a result many Kiwi dancers will head offshore. But with many companies still struggling with the aftermath of repeated lockdowns - these opportunities are less - some of those who were offered contracts last year, forced to return as the curtains closed indefinitely. 

"You have to keep up a certain level of fitness and daily work that you can't do unless you are in a company, or being paid," Rowe said.

"They lose their body conditioning if they have to stop for a year ... and then there's a whole new cohort of younger dancers who have just graduated and are ready to join companies." 

The uncertainty and increased competition making the continual emotional and financial investment in a dance career risky. 

And while it's been a tough few months for Dillon, she is choosing to make the most of the situation. 

"To sit in my house in lockdown and see opportunities withdrawn by email is quite sad. For a good sort of six months I was quite upset. It was a difficult thing to come to terms with, especially because I'd given up a lot of my life to go and pursue my goal. 

"Dance will always be a thing a do, it's a part of who I am," she said. "This is the situation we've been given, so we just have to adapt."