Across Hamilton, Canada and the world, artists have been forced to react and adapt to the postponement or cancellation of shows and the closing of venues. Many artists and organizations are rising to meet the complex challenges of COVID-19 even as the pandemic creates waves of news or information that can feel frightening or confusing. Through online platforms, new communities and connections are being forged and art is continuing to be shared with fellow creators and enthusiastic, and grateful audiences.

Beyond Covid-19 brings together writers from Beyond James with members of the Hamilton Arts Community to discuss broad, arts-related topics through digital conversations. A timer is set, and no answers are sought- rather, it’s an exchange of ideas and dialogues, which is then presented and shared through Beyond James.

In this edition of Beyond Covid-19, Beyond James’ Rebekka Gondosch sat down with Defining Movement Dance’s Josh Taylor to discuss how his personal artistic practice, and organization, have evolved as a result of Covid-19. Please note that this conversation has been edited for length.

Rebekka: I’d like to begin by asking you, first off, how you’re doing, how you’re coping in this wild time, what’s been making your heart really happy? How’s that been going?

Josh: […] I’ve been able to do dance classes, I’ve been able to see my students. I really felt for all my dancers and everyone everywhere who’s had, who’s been like, working towards a goal only to be like…you can no longer do it. […] I was saying this to a friend the other day, it’s like being on a basketball team, going to practice, and never being able to play a game and your season’s over. It’s just practice, right. And there’s so many things to get from practice and like that build up, there’s so much skill building and…as dancers and performers like you live for that performance, to be able to perform, to be able to battle, to be able to compete. So I feel for them. But it’s been really nice to be able to see my students, at least their faces, and for them to see each other and that’s been really joyous to see how they interact at any given time at some classes I’ll, I kinda step back for a few minutes and just let them go and talk and chat and make jokes and put on filters and, you know. So, I’m doing alright but uh…it’s like up and down but for the most part I feel pretty up. I feel fortunate.

Rebekka: I have so much to already ask. Can this be five hours long?

Josh: Yeah yeah!

Rebekka: I think it’s so interesting that you’re doing Zoom classes for some reason because the online presence I’ve seen of you has been through Instagram or I’ve taken Lisa [Emmon]’s class on YouTube, I didn’t even think of the interaction of a Zoom class. Of course that would also be happening, which is fantastic.

Josh: […] part of it was because when this first happened, so around like the 15th or 14th or something, and they made that announcement, and I was already kinda following it, and everything was pointing to we might be shut down for a couple weeks. I was like, okay. A couple of weeks is fine. However, I’ve got a bunch of dancers who have competition in three weeks so I’ve gotta make sure I keep them moving. You know, because I don’t want them to fall behind and we had some really difficult competitions so I’m like, you know what, let’s just get everything online and work to make it happen within the week; so right by the end of March break we’re already going online with a version of our full class schedule in terms of DMD. So like you know, about four or five hours of classes per night. So that was like the motivation and I was thinking, I’m like, ahhh these guys are gonna get bored

Laughter

And me, I’m gonna get bored. So like, I’m gonna want a little bit of class so that was my original motivation thinking it would be a few weeks and, you know, doing some reading at the beginning while I was setting that up I, you know, the more I was seeing I’m like oh, this is not going to be two weeks this is going to be a long time. And […] just you know in terms of talking with my staff I’m like, you know, let’s shift our mindset from this is a few weeks and it’s like how can you really work with this new medium of this is your class, and this is what you’re doing with your, you know, your competitive group like, what do you do with that. So yeah it uh… zoom has been my every evening for, you know, for about four hours, four/five hours almost yeah, so.

Rebekka: I can empathize with that.

Josh: Zooooom!

Rebekka: Zoom…our best friend.

Josh: Yeah!

Rebekka: Our worst enemy. 

Laughter

Josh: Yeah! Cause there’s some days it’s great and I’m like, ah this is amazing! And all of a sudden I’m like, wait I can’t, I’m sorry guys, just wait there’s something happening in the…I’m just gonna try to share the music. Oh no it’s cutting out. And then like especially with young children they’re like, Josh you’re cutting out! Josh there’s–

Laughter

The first few classes was like, you know, I’m not gonna say the word on here but it was a dumpster fire almost.

Rebekka: Bless. Bless the Zoom.

Josh: Yeah, bless it!

Rebekka: A So you moved quite quickly, from what I’m hearing, to online, kinda realized that some things were working, some weren’t. How do you feel like things have evolved or shifted? Has the spirit and energy of DMD has it changed, has the community changed? The connection?

Josh: Oh absolutely. […] It’s changed and I feel the loss; I think a lot of our community, families, and the dancers, I think we’re all feeling that loss and actually what I was sending an email out about, you know, not having our recital, our in-person recital, which is such a celebration of, you know, all the different aspects of the full year of dancers coming together to celebrate on stage and we do like…you know…yeah we do this big recital and the responses coming from that email were you know, how they missed the community, they miss seeing everybody, they miss being in the studio.

There’s this energy when you’re coming into class and another class is ending and there’s this chatter that happens in between and people are saying hi and you know hugging and hi five and then you go into class and that class goes, even when classes don’t start right on time there is this energy that is so…you can feel it, you can touch it, you know? And it’s like it actually makes each class have this real fire every single time because of the passing through and the different dancers cause it’s not always the same groups it might be a competitive group, or the rec, or older or young and…there’s that. The little kids seeing the older dancers who they are inspired by every week and the…you know we have a big tech class where dancers who are 17 and 18 and dancers who are 7, you know, and seeing them battle face to face and encourage each other and that and then of course there’s all our adult classes and that energy and being able to feed off of what your students are giving you. So I think like it has changed and…you know and that’s tough, that’s really tough, because it really does give so much energy to everybody who’s there. Even when you’re exhausted because you’ve been dancing for hours, you know? But I mean, with that said, we’re/it’s still connected which is great but you can definitely feel the energy is different and, you know with some of those students who were working towards a goal it did feel, I think for some of them, that the carpet had been taken right underneath them. Some who were in their last year and will not be able to compete with their team again and…I get the feeling that they, especially lately, it’s the first two weeks you’re like, Oh we don’t know what’s going to happen but then it starts to sink in that like, there’s no competitions, there’s no…there’s no competing, you’re not graduating, you’re not getting the recitals, you’re not getting these things; so I think for them you can see, I can see their energy…feel kind of heavy? In class, you know? Because you’re reminded, it’s like you’re seeing everybody, or you’re seeing what you love and you’re doing what you love but you’re also, at the same time, reminded what you’re not getting. Of being in the walls and, you know, being able to bump people you know, and…yeah. […] So it’s changed, but it’s still there. 

Rebekka: What wisdom or advice or energy do you pass on to students like that? Students who don’t know what’s coming next, the students who have to grieve the loss of not being able to compete, or their graduation so to speak…

Josh: Um…it’s tricky cause I mean we’re all in it together right? […] what I’ve told them, I think one of the turning points I did see in our classes was, okay everyone, this is not ending. At least for a while. And I think where the disappointment was coming from, that heaviness, part of it was the… the idea of…when are things going to open? When are we gonna get back to it? When are we back? And hoping for that and then, you know, take a moment to be like, you know, this is what it is right now. So rather than think about what, you know, thinking about how and when we’re going to get back because we don’t know and that’s going to make you even more anxious and worry more because you’re going to want to like, am I going to be able to do this? Am I going to miss this? It’s like, you have to accept it and then change […] look at what you have, work with what you have and um…so I have with some of those students, I’ve talked about the idea of, hey make some dances, make some stuff, now’s the time as a artist and as a, you know, a growing artist…put some work, make some work; your instagram page can be your mini resume, it can be your CV for, especially when it comes to dancing and the way the industry it works now with so many of the videos and TikTocks and all of that online…that is like take advantage and like learn some classes, put that stuff online. And don’t stop learning and then the other thing is kinda remind them, you know, you didn’t get into dancing to compete, you didn’t get into dancing because…or very specifically that, you know um, you got into it because of how it makes you feel and although you can’t physically connect with people, we are at a time where you can make something, put it up, and people can connect with you that way so, take advantage of that if you can because that’s where we are. We’re not in the other place, you know and…that was the best I could do. I wish I had a maybe a more inspiring one.

Rebekka: I don’t know Josh, that sounds profound to me! That sounds pretty profound.

Josh: Well, I think it sunk in with some of them and some of them I’ve seen you know, made videos and put some stuff online and got wonderful feedback and I think that’s really fun for them. Yeah and I hope, I hope they continue that, I hope dancers continue that and, and I’ve also said to them, and at the same time it’s completely okay if you don’t do anything. Chill. There’s many other things that you love. Do what you love and and some of them are having so much fun being at home with their families I know some are doing like fashion things and are doing a lot of…drawing and sketching and painting and so…you know it’s uh…if you can find it, there’s nothing wrong with just being still as well. Which maybe the really big lesson for this whole thing right, is…I think we got a lot of messages at the beginning where it’s like, do something with this time! Which probably contributed to everyone’s anxiousness, collective anxiousness where I’m like oh I’m not getting enough done! But…do you have to? It’s important to just slow down and recharge and…so…

Rebekka: I especially love hearing that from folks who do dance and movement, to be still. I think that’s actually very beautiful. To grant permission to do that…as a mover and shaker, you know?

Josh: Absolutely. That and when I make dances I think about contrast, and contrasting movement, and contrasting speeds, and textures, and things like that and I think in my life that’s also been important so when I’m doing my intense dancing, I’m dancing all the time but I also need that time to not do that at all. And that’s what feeds that other one, that’s what makes the dancing so beautiful, you know? And feel so great because I am taking time and I’m sure any dancer would say this where they do take time where they’re like, I don’t even want to listen to music you know? Maybe not that, but maybe I don’t want to listen to the music that I’m dancing to, or choreographing to..and it’s just like, I just…I just need to chill out and watch some movies, play some games, snuggle some cats…

Rebekka: Snuggle the cats!

Josh: Yeah that’s a…that’s a go to!

Rebekka: My parting question for you is…why the kitchen? 

Josh: Why the kitchen…

Rebekka: I notice that you dance in the kitchen, why the kitchen?

Josh: Ohhh what a lovely question! Thank you for that, okay! Why the kitchen? I love the kitchen. I love the kitchen. I think there’s like, there’s practical reasons and then there’s like the emotional reasons. The practical reason is that, in my house, that is the most open space where that, from an angle, you can see. You can see my feet, my whole body. That’s one. Two, if I do it in the kitchen, I have to keep the kitchen clean. 

Laughter

Josh: So, which means that you know, dishes, and it’s funny cause like our dishwasher broke too and we’re like oh my gosh! Which means you know, doing dishes and making sure it’s clean so I could dance in it.

Rebekka: That’s brilliant.

Josh: So that’s always good because, you know, to have at least one room that looks sparkly all the time is great…when you’re living in your house all the time. But the other side is I love the kitchen. I love to cook. I love to eat. I love to bake, well specifically cheesecakes. Not cookies, not other baking things…cheesecakes! I bake cheesecakes that’s like my thing, I’ve been doing it for years.

Rebekka: That’s so specific and so fantastic.

Josh: Oh my gosh I just love it! I love it. It’s like a thing like even at the beginning of this I made some cheesecakes, me and my wife we made some cheesecakes, and I like delivered them to friends just to be like…hey. So we made some cheesecakes and handed them out. 

Rebekka: Oh I love that.

Josh: And eventually, so we’re doing an online battle for our studio, for the kids, where that they submit it and that’s one of the prizes that they get a full cheesecake so…because they’ve heard rumours of it. 

Rebekka: Well now the whole internet will know so…are you prepared?

Josh: I’m prepared. They’re pretty good! I dunno, maybe it could be like my side hustle, who knows? 

[…]

Rebekka: Is there anything else you’d want to add that you didn’t? I always like to ask because…perhaps there’s something on your mind.

Josh: You know what, I did have a thought that what is kinda neat about this is seeing, I think, people in their own habitat. For lack of a better way to say it. And I think there’s something kinda connecting about that because we all see each other at these places of work, or business, or social, you know, and the odd time you have somebody come to your home and so on. But with this I’ve had many people in my kitchen, you know? And in my house and with the different people that I’ve taught, you know, you see their animals walk by and pets and a sister or a brother like come up and start dancing in front of the screen and there’s…although we’re lacking community we’re lacking the connection…because of that, their almost…there’s like a new connection that’s being? And maybe even a fuller picture of who you are learning from or working with. And… there’s something kinda beautiful in that vulnerability…

Rebekka: Something very human about it.

Josh: Yeah! There’s something and I can’t place it, I have a hard time articulating exactly what it is but there’s something about it that’s really really neat that, you know, that you see this different side of people. In the studio my wife is there, she pops in a lot, and she does a class or two, and all of my students know her. But like some classes know her better, some of my competitive team cause they’re there a bunch of times a week, know her better. Whereas […] now, every now and then she might even walk around with like one of these koala heads or something, just to mess with the kids. Cause I’m in the kitchen too right? So she gets a drink and heads out. And then my cats have been a…specifically the one cat he’s popped into a few videos and to the point where, you know, some of the younger kids they’re like, where’s Grayson today?? 

Rebekka: So charming!

Josh: Yeah there’s something really neat about that. Yeah, I just wanted to share that.

Rebekka: I love that. I really do. Yeah, I think we put on this like…there’s this performativity when we move through the world. Where we’re, you know, very pleasant or…well, hopefully we’re pleasant anyway but, I think when you see someone in their own home it’s just very real, very human.

Josh: Yeah and there’s something really neat about that. Something that connects in a different way.

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