Pandemic journal: Monday Night Dance Class, In Memoriam

Drafted during Ericka Lutz’s Writing in Place virtual workshop, March 22 (Day 9 of voluntary social distancing)


The Zoom dance classes are going to save my mental health and maybe my body. 

I’m grieving, though, for the class I’m not going to, the one our preschool director told me about, that meets 


on Monday nights at the long-established studio a few miles from where we live. That class saved me, already, on nights when I was so tired from the afternoon with my kid and the scramble of re-entry to the week after the weekend, losing patience with my kid and having not much patience with myself either, for all the things I’d wanted to do the week before and over the weekend, that have now fallen onto this one day’s mad and hopeless rush to re-evaluate and catch up and patch over before the current week rushes in. Monday late afternoons would find me and my kid both melting down, together but apart, them over-tired and me overstimulated and stressed and with nothing to look forward to except trying to figure out dinner.

But then: dance class. At 5 I’d be gulping down some fuel for the 2 hours ahead, often a bowl of cereal. At 5:30 I’d be getting in the car (alone. alone!!), maybe putting some music on, maybe enjoying the silence, and feeling just leisurely enough while making my way across surface streets at rush hour to the rather upscale residential street where there is always parking, then walking the block to the studio, young dancers visible through the windows in their matching leotards, and those of us in the waiting area for beginning modern a motley assortment of ages and presentations, maybe stretching or maybe catching up (those who’d been doing the class for longer or who knew each other from elsewhere). Then squashing up the stairs with sweaty young people coming down, getting into the studio and pushing the movable barres out of the way, and then S’s big, joyful energy and welcome, exhale, we are here. 

Stand in a circle. Go round and say our names. Get to the ground, stretch, contract, shake, roll, point, flex, arch, flat back, lie down, open to an X, bounce, hug your knees in, make dramatic faces. Stand up, walk around, adjust your clothes, feel your body, start making eye contact with others, greet them with your gaze, now walk faster, make some interesting choreographic choices, cut through the space in different directions, improvise, now come to a standstill facing any direction, close your eyes, 3 demi-pliés. Move to the side of the room, we’ll learn a phrase. Excellent music, whatever it is, always just the right thing. Right, left, right left — at least for the first two weeks and then it’s left, right, left, right for the last two. It’s not perfect but we’ll do it anyway. That was so great! Take a sip of water. Then we do the technique stuff: pliés, tendus, arm and shoulder work. Imagine the ocean to the west, the mountains to the east, the desert to the south — don’t just be limited by the walls of this room. Wonderful! Now we’ll learn the dance: S doing this gorgeous thing across the room, curly hair and curvy hips and thighs, doing impossible things that I know from incredulous experience that I, too, will be doing by the end of the class — not like S, but like me. We break it down. We try it. We practice with a partner. We don’t know what we’re doing but we do it anyway. All together. Then split into groups: group 1, group 2, group 3. Again. Everyone is dancing. Some are technically perfect and know exactly what they should be doing at every beat. Some aren’t counting but they’re still doing everything they should, and doing it in their own style: expansive or powerful or compact or emotive or elegant. Some, like me probably though I can’t ever see myself, don’t know what they’re doing a lot of the time, definitely mess up and do that “ugh, I screwed up!” cringe or shake of the head, and it’s instinctive and we can’t stop ourselves but actually we needn’t feel bad, because everyone I’ve ever seen in that class, everyone, has some moment of utter beauty and flow where they are dancing, they are the dance, and it’s breathtaking and the fact that it’s only a moment doesn’t matter whatsoever. 

Now the floor work. Again S is amazing in her demonstration. Again I cannot believe I will be able to do that. Again we break it down, more in-depth because floor work is less familiar for almost everyone, even the lifelong dancers. Again we try it until we sorta have it. Then S changes the music, we put it all together, and then we are all, truly, by the last minutes of class, dancing, sometimes even in harmony with each other. Come together in a circle again, a few demi-pliés and deep breaths and arms out toward each other, and we leave transformed. 

On the last Monday before everything shut down I told S her class was like church. She said she loves to teach this class because everyone in it, unlike some of her college classes where the students are required to be there, is so hungry to be there. She said she has classes of her own that she attends, that give her that church feeling. And now church is closed.