#lovelowry guest curator – Daisy Howell, Centre for Advanced Training in Dance Co-ordinator

It is 6pm and the Zoom doors open. Squares filled with faces rush to screen, as I say hello and welcome everyone to class. From living room back drops, bedroom landscapes and kitchen scenes, I see the students ready to train and ready to dance. A micro lens into their world, the squares bubble with anticipation, laughter and movement, a buzz in the virtual air even after months of digital isolation. I feel inspired by their determination to keep the dance going, holding a mixture of pride, disbelief and drive as I send them into their breakout rooms. Another evening of digital dancing commences and I can’t help but feel hopeful for the future of dance.

Throughout the pandemic, the Lowry CAT Cohort has been digitally dancing and training, with the programme supporting the technical and creative development of over 60 talented young dancers across the North West. Through the blessings of Zoom, remote learning has been made possible and despite the many hurdles, the scheme has provided high quality dance training at a consistent, exciting level. It is a joy to say this has been possible and that despite these challenging times, the world of virtual learning has granted movement, creativity and community to continue to blossom.

It is exciting to share this journey as someone who has recently joined the Lowry CAT Team and has seen the amazing work the programme has achieved throughout this time. However, I also write from the perspective of someone who was once a Lowry CAT Student, with my experience adding another level of understanding as to what the scheme means to a young person.

I trained on the scheme for five years, of which without the wonderful and artistic support I received, I would not be the artist I am today. I have always been grateful for my time as a young student, growing as a dancer within such a beautiful, nurturing and welcoming environment. I remember my first day in the studio and meeting my tutors for the first time. I remember my first show on the Quays Theatre, my first Easter Intensive where I was so nervous and my first
experience walking into the Lowry itself. From all these epic, remarkable and micro experiences, pieces of my artistry were able to grow and to this day, remain rooted within these moments of learning and play. With this, I now see the current CAT Cohort changing and adapting to these turbulent times. I see the team navigating the challenges and frustrations of Zoom, responding to the needs of the students despite digital limitations. It is all still there, I think to myself, the CAT I remember and love. Although now living as a virtual being, the scheme is still providing glistening
moments of joy, experience and artistic growth. It is in a different virtual territory, but the core of what CAT is still remains true.

To uphold this level of excitement and momentum is impressive. Training on Zoom for months on end and only able to connect with people virtually is a challenge. It is hard enough meeting with people on Zoom, let alone en-capturing the nuance, depth and magic of a dance class. Restricted in space and solo in your learning, the world of virtual dancing has challenged both professional dancers and companies on a global scale, with us all learning how to navigate screen sharing, audio conundrums and how to press the unmute button! However, within all the frustrations and oddness of our digital training, moments of creativity and connection have sparked…

Watching our young people train, dance and create on Zoom has been eye opening, not only for how fast they adapt to this way of working, but how they navigate the use of technology. I have seen them create virtual duets through simply using the chat box and emojis. I have seen them share and learn material from each other by pinning their screens and only using hand signals to share voice. I have seen them creatively adapt their living spaces and pick up material, music and notes as if still in the studio.

Although we are all ready to be back in person, there is something uniquely special about this zoom creativity and how it has challenged our students to see dance within a whole new context. Losing the safety of mirrors and dance floors, and stripping back the dance experience to a solo, virtual entity, is bizarre and undoubtedly frustrating. However, there is method in the madness and I can see how the zoom experience has shaped a whole new thinking and practice within our students. I have witnessed our students process information and relay from a whole new perspective, as they research and craft within their individual spaces. The challenges of domestic space and wifi has asked the students to independently practice and work, demanding them to utilise their movement skills to adapt in the moment. Through this, I sense how their individual thinking has changed their movement qualities and reactions towards space, musicality and choreography. No one wants to stay on Zoom forever, but I think the virtual journey has some weight and merit in how it has provided a new landscape for young dancers to grow.

And now we are on the verge of our in person delivery restarting, with the learnings of our Zoom experience present and itching to get out. It is exciting to take the next step and bring life and laughter back into our spaces again, dismantling the virtual walls and to meet our students and team in the real world. There is also an excitement I am holding close for all the newness and first steps that may occur. For some of our students this will now be their first time in the Lowry or meeting their tutors face to face. It may be their first time meeting their peers and making work
together. For some, the first time working with live musicians or creating a show. After such a challenging year, I know everyone will feel that first step energy, as we all reunite within the studio once more.

There is a great deal I could say about the learnings and achievements I have witnessed through our Zoom Training, from both students and tutors. However what I have really taken away is the magic in resilience and the drive to keep going. The next generation of dancers are equipped and ready for the challenges ahead and I am reassured that their creativity, drive and determination is not only going to be a future game changer, but will positively shape the landscape of the dance scene and beyond.

April 2021 – Daisy Howell

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