A week after arriving in Catania on the first leg of my year abroad, I began training in classical ballet at a highly rated dance school very close to my flat (and yes, I chose the flat due to its proximity to the studio, not the other way round). After getting over the initial shock of not understanding anything for about two weeks, it’s safe to say that my Italian has drastically improved from going to ballet. I thought my Italian was good before coming.
Dancing with a group of people who could not speak any English meant that I often had to refer to tiny muscles in Italian that you would never find in a textbook. I was learning the language as well as ballet. So, I was devastated when the Italian government announced that they would be closing gyms and dance studios across Italy for the second time.
While I had lost a huge part of my year abroad, my teacher had lost his income for the second time this year, and those who are training to be professional dancers had lost their education again. The Sicilian dance community was not having any of this. In response, ballet teachers in Catania, mine included, organised a Covid secure protest within 24 hours, entitled ‘Danza = Distanza’ (‘Dance = distance’ in English, but the Italian definitely sounds better).
We met outside Teatro Bellini, Catania’s main theatre, dressed in black, wearing masks, and with pointe shoes around our necks. The signs that read ‘Danza = Distanza’ and ‘Ci hanno rubato la nostra futura’ (trans. ‘they have stolen our future from us’) were tied to the theatre’s closed gates. We were positioned in evenly spaced lines; Covid safe and typical of a ballet class. The protest began with the Italian national anthem, which I do not know. Hidden benefit of the mask, nobody had a clue that I did not know the words.
Afterwards, a dance teacher spoke about how these lockdowns are killing the futures of aspiring dancers, teachers and choreographers. The rest of the protest was almost set out like a funeral. Among various chants about how dance is important and Covid safe, the teachers who organised the protest created a playlist of famous pieces of music from ballets, such as the overture from Swan Lake. While this was playing, we stood in complete silence, feet together, arms by our sides, heads down. For us dancers, we were mourning the loss of our art. For onlookers who recognised the music, we presented a jarring image; the music should be accompanied by the choreography. Alone, it is almost ghostly.
The result of this protest did not quite go to plan. We hoped that it would be understood that one can take a dance class in a Covid safe way, however, studios currently remain shut. However, we continue to train in online classes, and we hope to all be back in the studio stronger than ever before.
By Ava Cohen