As the world slowed down with bars and restaurants closed and all social activities halted during the coronavirus lockdown, we all had to find things to do in the comfort of our own homes. For some, this meant trying their hand at making banana bread and sourdough, or taking up a new hobby such as knitting, rollerskating and languages. For others it meant rediscovering their love of activities they enjoyed during childhood.
Dance has a firm place in our hearts thanks to TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing and movies like Dirty Dancing and Step Up. From street to contemporary to ballet, dance has many health benefits: it improves your cardiovascular health and stamina, strengthens bones and fends off illnesses. Research also shows that it can improve your mental health by boosting your overall happiness.
Happily, you don't have to be at a wedding, club or bar to shift some shapes. Ahead, we caught up with two young women who have spent lockdown rediscovering their love of dance in the comfort of their own homes, and who share why they decided to revisit the childhood hobby that sparked joy.
Samantha Yu, 31, lives in Angel, London, with her fiancé Aaron. The New York native moved to London three years ago.
What made you get back into dance during lockdown?
For years I had been missing the buzz that comes with dancing and had been longing to revisit it. This video from my friend and Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company dancer Dylan Tedaldi put me in a playful mood one Saturday morning in late March. Lockdown was in full swing by then and I think I was just itching to move, to get some energy flowing and to feel a bit more free through it all. It was also a gorgeous day, which meant I was searching for ways to spend time on our terrace, which we’ve been very thankful to have while we’ve been at home.
For how long had you not danced?
I started taking dance classes when I was 8 years old. I started with jazz and then over the years explored tap, ballet, modern, musical theatre, contemporary, hip hop and probably more! The last time I performed was in the spring of 2015. It was with a great group of friends who had all been dancing for years and wanted to keep doing it, even as we got older and had full-time (non-dance-related, for most of us) jobs.
What made you fall out of the habit?
As I was wrapping up my final dance performances, I was simultaneously discovering new passions. I started getting into boxing, which was an incredible new world of finding rhythms, practising combinations and challenging myself physically. Instead of going to the dance studio on weekends, I’d be at the boxing gym. (If you’re in NYC and interested in trying boxing, look up Michael Tosto at Title Boxing NYC. If you’re in London and interested in trying boxing, look up Caleb Bowen, who used to be at BLOK and is now at Sweat by BXR.)
Lockdown had been in full swing for a few weeks by then and I think I was just itching to move, to get some energy flowing and to feel a bit more free through it all.
How does it make you feel that you've rediscovered your love of dance – has it relaxed you, made you feel less anxious about the pandemic?
I found and felt JOY just because I was moving, because I was DOING IT. I think part of why I was out of the habit for so long was that I was nervous about what would happen if I tried to pick dancing back up again. I thought, What if I’m not as good as I once was? What if I can’t retain the choreography? But approaching that first session, and all the following sessions, with Beginner’s Mind — with openness, eagerness and no preconceptions or expectations — meant that I was able to truly be present and just relish the process of rediscovering dance and playing with movement.
Have you been taking classes and if so, which ones?
I’ve taken online classes with a few incredible teachers — a hip hop class with Karon Lynn (Instagram, YouTube) who is based in Los Angeles, and a contemporary class with Brice Mousset (Instagram, YouTube) who is based in New York. There’s nothing like sharing a studio with fellow dancers in class but the ability to connect with other students from around the world to learn together has been wonderful.
Are you going to keep it up?
I definitely want to keep up the dancing. One of my resolutions this year was to start dancing again and I’d like to stick to it now that I’ve had a start, whether that’s with a quick freestyle session, virtual class or at the studio (if and when studios open back up).
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to try freestyle dancing for the first time?
GO FOR IT! Dance classes are challenging but also SO encouraging and fun. They’re GOOD VIBES spaces where all are welcome. There are so many different dance styles and so many different teachers out there — enjoy the process of learning and discovering what makes you feel the most good. Maybe start out with a feelgood cardio "Sweat Fest" with Ryan Heffington to get things going! Find joy in simply letting go, moving, and letting your body be free.
Rachel Hosie, 27, lives in London but is currently staying at her parents' house in Leicestershire.
What made you get back into dance during lockdown?
I spent lockdown at my parents’ house, which is my childhood home, in Leicestershire — not only does this mean I’m lucky enough to have room to dance (my London flat is so small that the entire thing would fit inside my bedroom here) but I’m also living with my younger sister, Holly, for the first time in years, and dancing was a huge part of both our childhoods.
I stumbled upon my ballet bag at the bottom of my wardrobe and when I opened it up to find multiple pairs of well-loved ballet shoes, leotards and skirts — and a cereal bar that expired in 2006 — a wave of nostalgia flooded over me. So many warm memories came rushing back. There’s also the fact that I do actually have a ballet barre and large mirrors in my childhood bedroom (I wasn’t lying when I said dancing was my life).
For how long had you not danced and what made you fall out of the habit?
I did ballet for 18 years, from the age of 2 to 20. I know what you’re thinking: how can you do ballet aged 2? I don’t remember any more than sitting on the floor doing 'good toes naughty toes' to be honest, but I went to class every week and, according to my mother, loved it.
I kept it up all through my childhood and teenage years, also branching out to other styles like modern, jazz, theatrecraft, tap and lyrical. Dancing was my life. Since moving to London after my degree, I’ve got really into my fitness and now do all sorts of exercise including the odd jazz, zumba and dance cardio class, but only occasionally, and for some reason I haven't done any ballet or anything classical at all. Life took over and I forgot how much I loved it. I think I also felt like dancing, and ballet in particular, was something you needed to commit to doing regularly, rather than just dropping in and out like other fitness classes.
How does it make you feel that you've rediscovered your love for dance – has it relaxed you?
It feels amazing! I really feel there’s a type of dance for whatever mood I’m in. Sometimes I want to do a technical pointe class, sometimes I want to learn an empowering Beyoncé routine, sometimes I just want to put on a beautiful song and let my body move to the music however feels good.
I’ve been particularly surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed getting back into ballet. The mutual strength and grace required really appeals to me — lifting heavy weights has been a passion of mine for the past three years, but the strength you need in ballet is completely different. It’s so challenging and in that way, completely addictive. Dancing just makes me feel awesome: I definitely don’t look like a prima ballerina or a Pussycat Doll but I feel like them and that’s all that matters.
I think for me, part of the reason I’m so enjoying getting back into dance and finding it so comforting is that it’s a throwback to my childhood. Dancing was my great love in life for 18 years and returning to it provides comfort and a sense of stability (not literally, I’m very wobbly) in these uncertain times.
Dancing just makes me feel awesome: I definitely don't look like a prima ballerina or a Pussycat Doll but I feel like them and that's all that matters.
Have you been taking classes?
I’ve been doing all sorts! Ballet-wise, I’ve been doing YouTube classes by Kathryn Morgan and Lazy Dancer Tips, Seen on Screen dance has fun Instagram Lives, Pineapple Dance Studios has also been highlighting what all its instructors are doing (I like Marky J’s jazz), and of course, my private lessons with Holly!
Will you keep it up?
Absolutely! I never thought a rekindled love of dancing would be an outcome of the lockdown but quite frankly I’m thrilled about it, and I’m definitely going to keep it up when I get back to London, whenever that may be.
And what advice would you give anyone wanting to try ballet for the first time?
Go for it! One of the great things about dancing at home is no one can see you, so you can truly lose all your inhibitions, which is so freeing. You don’t need to wear ballet shoes and a leotard, you don’t need any equipment, just some of your favourite songs and a little energy.
Don’t be afraid to try different styles either: ballet may not be for you but maybe you love street or belly dance. There’s so much out there, you’ll never get bored, and we’re so privileged to be able to sample everything through our phones right now.