What It's Really Like to Work as a Professional Dancer—Via Zoom

November 1, 2020

Throughout quarantine, many dance companies have streamed prior performances and offered company classes on Zoom. But Mark Morris Dance Group was one of the first to create all-new works virtually. To hear what it was really like to create new dances via Zoom, we spoke with MMDG company member Karlie Budge—on the phone, of course. Here’s her insider experience, a
s told to Cadence Neenan.

When we first heard
about the lockdown, as certain businesses began shutting down, we were actually on tour in Spokane, WA. Before we even left, there was some uneasiness about whether or not it was safe to travel, but we ended up going. And then, the week we got back, it was announced that we wouldn’t be having any more in-person rehearsals.

From there, we started having company class on Zoom once a day, which I was so grateful for, just to be able to dance. But after a week or two of that, we realized we would be in quarantine for a while, and we started to think more about what we could do beyond taking class. That actually happened pretty quickly—less than a month into lockdown, we were already figuring out how to create virtually. I feel like since Mark has such a creative spirit, he couldn’t not create something for much longer.

Budge rehearsing in her at-home dance space (courtesy Budge)

The first project we started working on was actually based on a piece that was supposed to premiere in July, so we were more than two-thirds of the way finished with it, and just needed to adapt it for a new medium. When we had our first rehearsal for the piece, Lonely Waltz, I was definitely a bit nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect. But once we got into rehearsing, it was the same kind of interaction with Mark as we have in the studio, which was refreshing, because it had been three or four weeks since I’d been in a rehearsal or creative process.

Lonely Waltz
was only the first of a few different pieces we worked on remotely, and the challenges varied based on the project. For Lonely Waltz, since it was movement we were already familiar with, the biggest challenge was just adapting it to a different space, since we were used to performing it really big. At home, you’re trying to listen to every choreographic detail and avoid kicking over your table at the same time.

For the other pieces, the challenges were different. Frequently, we were given prompts, and we had to decide what to do with them. For Sunshine, one of our other video dances, we pretty much just had a certain rhythm we had to keep with our feet or some other part of our bodies. We would basically have one Zoom rehearsal where we were given guidelines, and from there, we’d start submitting videos. The biggest challenge was trusting ourselves and our interpretations of the guidelines we were given.

What’s been interesting is that we, as dancers, have to consider all of these other elements beyond just the movement now. We’ve gotten into the habit of asking questions about what kind of background we should dance in front of, what kind of lighting the video should have, what color clothes we should be wearing. You really have to take into account all of the production elements that someone else is usually worrying about.

It’s also been different working on my own. Usually, we’re dancing in a big group, so it’s a big change to work on these projects and have no idea what my fellow dancers are doing. I’ve actually enjoyed that independence.