COVID-19: Dancers and companies concerned for their futures

Christina Zorrato rehearsing in Montreal.

Many professional dancers are out of work due to COVID-19 and it might be awhile until they are able to return.

Professional ballet dancer, Christina Zorrato, has been dancing for 20 years, two of which have been professionally with different companies and it’s her main source of income. However, she has applied for the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) and has also received financial help from her parents.

“I am thankful to have financial support from both my family and the government getting me through these challenging times,” says Zorrato, a 23-year-old Oshawa resident. “At the moment, CERB is my primary source of income and I am fortunate enough to be able to do some work here and there for the family business.”

Zorrato says she wanted to work in the United States. However, with the closure of the Canadian border, she is unsure if it will re-open at the same time as dance companies.

The Fifth Dance co-founder, 28-year-old Sarahi Cardenas, has similar concerns about her Toronto-based studio. She says they are heavily relying on their donation-based relief fund to stay afloat.

Cardenas says they run online classes but does not want to charge people.

“I don’t have the heart to charge people for classes, you know, especially when one of my goals is as a studio to be able to provide to everyone, it doesn’t matter, regardless of their backgrounds,” says Cardenas.

In addition to the financial burdens COVID-19 have had on professional dancers, the closures and recommended social distancing are also taking away from their training time.

“Many people do not realize that the level of fitness required to pursue a career in dance is akin to that of a professional athlete,” says Zorrato. “Not only am I possibly losing an entire year of work, but I have lost most of my ability to keep training.”

While studios like The Fifth are continuing with virtual classes, it is possible they are not feasible for all dancers.

Zorrato says she has technology and space to practise techniques and stretches but it is not as sufficient as her regular training schedule. She adds she is worried for the future of other dancers and companies.

“I worry, however, for the fate of dance companies, and wonder if arts-related businesses will be able to stay afloat,” says Zorrato.

While Cardenas is worried for the future, she is hopeful this time will allow people to be more creative and come out of the pandemic with something to offer the world.

“I think everyone is going to come out of it with at least one creative offering. And hopefully, it’s going to help us not forget these times,” says Cardenas.