When the world seemed to stop, dancers kept moving. And they found innovative ways to do it. The Vermont Dance Alliance is morphing to meet current challenges, and its members are using dance as a form of healing.

Toes are still tappin’

Dance is constantly evolving, according to Rose Bedard.

Bedard is a Burlington-based dance teacher and member of the Vermont Dance Alliance.

Dance has been a huge part of her life since childhood, when she began formal lessons. After a brief hiatus in her teenage years, Bedard became “reacquainted” with dance in her 20s.

“Dance is one of those things where you’re always a student first,” Bedard said. “It’s always evolving, it’s always changing, it’s always growing.”

COVID-19 may have proven her theory correct. Bedard owns two dance companies around the Champlain Valley. In normal times, she teaches hip-hop and jazz to rooms full of students.

But this spring, everything changed.

“I went from having classes every day to nothing,” Bedard said.

Like her fellow Vermont Dance Alliance members, Bedard had to get creative. She transformed her basement into a dance studio, and her students followed – virtually.

“Whatever we needed to do to make it happen, I believe we’ve done, to best of our ability with the best resources that we have,” Bedard said.

Now, as guidelines allow for more people to gather, Bedard and students have begun to meet again, outside, taking all the necessary precautions. Returning to the same dance floor has validated how much of a “social art” dance is, she said.

“I do believe it’s steeped into our culture and I believe that it’s such a social outlet for so many,” Bedard said.

And she believes that art truly does imitate life. Bedard has used dance to move through and express her feelings during this period of pandemic.

From below ground she choreographed a new show called “Blessings from the Basement.”

“It really kind of taps into this time period that I spent hours and days in my basement; the appreciation, the gratefulness, the inspiration that I found there,” Bedard said.

She and some of her students will perform the piece outdoors in August.

Bedard hopes that other Vermont dancers will continue to think outside the box.

“This may be our way of life for a while, so we kind of readjust the sails. Do not be afraid at times to just be the passenger and not the driver. See where things take us,” she said.

Healing through dance

Liesje Smith was born and raised dancing in Vermont. After a childhood of ballet lessons, she became serious about dance. So much so that she pursued a degree in dance at Naropa University.

It was there that Smith began to view dance and movement as a form of healing. She studied somatic movement, a practice that focuses on what movement feels like inside the body as opposed to the external appearance or result of the movement, according to the Somatic Movement Center.

“Movement is a way where people can discover that they can, they can meet themselves, they can care for themselves and generate self-care, self-love,” Smith said.

Perhaps now more than ever, that kind of self-care and body awareness is needed.

Before the pandemic, Smith taught movement classes for adults and seniors. Now, she is using this period to deepen her skills in helping people work through trauma by focusing their consciousness on movement within the body.

“The pandemic has really reinforced for me in a big way the importance of somatics, the importance of embodiment, the importance of movement,” she said.

She finds it interesting how the pandemic has forced everyone to become more aware of their bodies.

A trip to the grocery store now requires people to be cognizant of their distance from others, she said, and masks have created a heightened awareness of the body.

“All of these things are about the body, and about self-regulation,” Smith said. “If you really honor your body and you honor your health, then you have more capacity also to honor each other and in the health of your communities.”

Smith plans to create instructional movement videos both on her own and through the Vermont Dance Alliance website for dancers to access during these challenging times.

“This is the time to really engage in dance as a healing process. It’s so important to have a chance to feel. So that’s where dance comes in and can work with healing on an emotional level,” she said.

Dancers find a new routine

Hanna Satterlee, of Burlington, is also a lifelong dancer. Her artistic expression has ushered her around the country and the world moving and meeting other dancers along the way.

But who says you can’t go home?

After some time away, Satterlee realized that Vermont was where she wanted to be.

But there was one small problem.

“I really had always been disappointed by the lack of structure for the community of dance in Vermont,” Satterlee said.

So, she decided to do something about it.

In 2016, Satterlee founded the Vermont Dance Alliance, as a volunteer group to unite dancers, and to create dance events across the state.

When COVID-19 began to spread this spring, the Alliance had to pivot and find new ways to carry out its work. Turning to the web, Alliance members hosted six weeks of online dance classes. Those sessions helped dance teachers keep up their instruction and got community members “moving in their living rooms,” Satterlee said.

The Alliance planned to host an outdoor dance festival in Burlington this summer, but with safety in mind revised its plans. The group worked with Extensity Creative, a South Burlington-based video production company, to create a recording of the performance that was streamed virtually. And after hearing a call from dancers who craved connection during this socially distant time, the Alliance created a dance pen pal program.

The program pairs dancers through Zoom to move together as a source of “inspiration and accountability.”

This Sunday, July 26, members of the Alliance will begin a new type of outdoor performance, called, “Dancing in the Garden.” The performance will take place at the Horsford Gardens and Nursery in Charlotte and will welcome a limited audience. Proceeds from the event will support the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network.

“Directing the Alliance is its own creative project. It’s never the same,” Satterlee said. “You have to figure out how to put people together and work well together and give them the right tools for a successful outcome.”

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