Creative passions can’t be contained inside one’s own four walls, whatever the intentions of an “invisible enemy” among us.
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to unfold, the virus has encountered an enviable adversary on Bainbridge Island: the vigorous resilience of the island’s creative community.
Though the coronavirus has taken a considerable toll on the cultural scene on Bainbridge — major events cancelled through June, critical fundraisers postponed until fall, nonprofits struggling to survive — green shoots are emerging.
Bainbridge’s creative community has found fertile ground on the web, with online art shows, classes and performances.
Martha Jordan, owner of the Winslow Art Center Studio & Gallery, has set up a robust schedule of classes and other upcoming offerings. Also in the works; visits with artists in their studios across the country, and free open studios.
“I had actually been thinking about offering some online classes anyway, but I hadn’t intended to have to change gears so quickly,” Jordan explained.
So far, the class offerings have been a work in progress.
“There are certain things that don’t translate as well as others, but I’m trying to pick those that do work the best for online learning,” said Jordan, who was an alternative education teacher in a past life before opening the art center on Winslow Way East. “What’s missing from part of the studio community that I’ve helped to build up is not having that interaction in person.”
She said her online classes are becoming more than just a student watching a teacher on a video screen; they include a lot of one-on-ones, focused feedback with the instructor, and also critique periods with other students.
Jordan credited Darrell Anderson, a longtime instructor for the studio, with his assistance in setting up the format that the studio’s teachers will use for classes. Anderson is a former software technician, she added.
A few classes started this week, with more on the way.
The gallery has also host two online “Art Chats,” with another to be added on Friday evenings.
“The plan for this Friday’s first happy hour chat was to do a small painting of a happy hour drink,” Jordan said. “So I’ve painted a martini for the past few days.”
More to come
Jordan said she hopes more people will join in on the free chats, and expects that the word will eventually get out and draw more participants.
“I feel like people are still, to some extent, coping with the reality, with the whole experience we’re going through,” she said. “We’re just starting to realize maybe it’s going to be around for a while.”
“Regardless of that, now that I’m loving these online classes and the format of it, whatever the new normal is, I plan to continue to have the online classes.”
Shifting to online classes has actually made workshops more accessible for some students, as well as instructors, who would normally have to book a flight to Washington, and get a hotel and rental car.
Having access to such renowned instructors without those costs, Jordan said, has opened a whole set of opportunities for artists and students who are limited in the number of far-off workshops they can attend.
Classes and workshops have been scheduled through June, but Jordan noted there’s probably a half dozen or so that have not yet been added to the website.
“So far, everybody is just thrilled,” she said.
“The nice thing is I have great instructors locally, who are super supportive and gung-ho,” Jordan said, as well as artists who usually are only able to visit once or twice a year. “Because of this, I can schedule anybody anywhere.”
Connecting online fills the void left by the needed isolation of today.
“Artists tend to be solitary beings in their studios, but I think it’s important for creative types to share that creativity, and be around other people to be inspired.”
Christiana Axelsen, director of Bainbridge Dance Center, said the center switched to online programming in response to the closing of public schools due to COVID-19 concerns.
It was an unexpected shift, she said.
“Not only had we never considered online dance instruction, we were faced with the interesting challenge of finding appropriate distance learning tools for ages 3 through adult,” Axelsen explained.
The solution: screen-free options for the center’s youngest dancers.
Axelsen said those options include podcasts and activity kits.
For older ages, there is a variety of online resources to choose from, including Zoom classes, pre-recorded videos, and private webpages.
“Adult classes have increased in popularity as many adults have a more flexible schedule now that they are working from home and they seem excited to try new things,” she said.
“We have had whole families — mom, dad and the kids — show up for our drop-in adult zoom classes!”
Bainbridge Dance Center has a sizable faculty of 13, and all of the members are providing distance learning for their classes, Axelsen said, be that podcasts, prerecorded videos or Zoom classes.
Faculty members choose the formats they think are best for their students, she added.
Currently, the online and distance learning programs are providing instruction for approximately 200 children and adult learners.
Axelsen said Zoom, a videoconferencing platform that has exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 shutdown, was picked up by the dance center because public schools were shifting to that platform “and we thought correctly that this would be the easiest transition for our students.”
“I had some initial difficulty wrapping my head around the potential of Zoom as an educational tool for a physically based art form,” she said. “Fortunately all our faculty members, students and families quickly become adept. I realize how privileged we are to have access to this tool and to be in a community that has almost universal access to computers and internet.”
“I was shocked at how effective our first week of Zoom classes were,” she added. “The students were focused and dedicated even in the midst of the stress of being locked down in their homes.
“It is beautiful to see them all dancing in their living rooms, kitchens, porches, even from the inside of a sailboat. Even the youngest ages are passionate and disciplined.”
Not everything has gone according to program, however.
“The biggest surprise has been pets,” Axelsen said. “We will be in the middle of class and the family dog or cat will make an appearance. These unexpected visits provide much needed levity.
“One teacher even had a ‘bring your pet to BDC” day where students brought their pet to zoom class,” she said.
Axelsen also admitted an amusing “Aha!” moment: “It was a joyful moment when I discovered I can mute everyone in the class.”
Remote learning also doesn’t translate the same for every style of dance.
“Tap has been hard due to the centrality of clean sound. With any slight time lag, there can be cacophony,” Axelsen said. “Our tap teacher Kofi [Williams] quickly switched to sending students prerecorded videos to learn before class. During his Zoom classes students work with him one-on-one while the other dancers are muted and watching or practicing on their own.”
Still, there are some things that remote teaching can’t do.
“Dance instruction is not just an interaction between a teacher and a student,” Axelsen explained.
“In live classes dancers learn from each other and feed each other energetically. There is no real replacement for the energy of a room full of dancers, just as there is no real replacement for live performance.”
There are also adjustments that need to be made on the students’ end.
“The biggest hurdle for many of our students is not the online aspect of the training, it is that most homes do not have the space and necessary components of a dance studio. How many people have 1,200 square feet of open space in their homes with a smooth, sprung floor?” Axelsen asked.
“We have students dancing on carpet, navigating couches and walls.
“I tell my classes that this is great practice for being a dancer on tour,” she added. “There were times when I would arrive to perform in a new city and there would be some bizarre obstacle in the stage space. A couple of years ago I performed at the Florence Dance Festival. The stage is in the beautiful courtyard of the Bargello Museum but there is a large stone well in the lower left corner of the stage. They put a cover over the well but with bright lights it was a tricky obstacle.
“So this situation is great practice for being a professional dancer which requires one to be adaptable and creative,” she said.
The experience of separation, but continuing the creative connection, has been rewarding.
“There is a deep level of affection and respect between our teachers and our students. Unlike a traditional school, we teach students for multiple years and have long-term relationships with them and their families,” Axelsen said.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of this situation has been witnessing the creativity and resourcefulness of our teachers. They have gone above and beyond what I thought possible,” Axelsen said. “Whitney Mayer created the My Story Ballet project for all our students to create their own story ballets; Christina Kemp is providing a mental health resource page; Danielle Zack is bringing together BDC alums with our current students for masterclasses; Gary Reed developed a series of mindful moments videos.
“Teachers are not just teaching online classes. They are providing students with conditioning videos, stretching regimens, dance history resources, and links to online dance performances and professional classes. I have deep respect for my colleagues and this situation has demonstrated what outstanding educators they are,” she said.
And then, there are the dancers.
“I adore my students,” Axelsen said. “I look forward to the moment when their smiling faces appear in those Brady Bunch-like boxes of Zoom. We say our hellos. We talk through the difficulties or joys of the day. Then we get to dance.
“What could be better than that?”