Dear Ballet Association,
I am so thrilled to be writing to you in the third week of the School’s Autumn Term and able to report that all of our new and returning students are back in the studio after such a long time, save just a handful who were delayed due to visas or required quarantine measures. I’ve seen lots of smiles and heard much laughter ringing throughout the School corridors and I know that our students are as happy to be back as we are to have them back. It has been extraordinary to hear live music and to see dancing in the studios once again.
What we, and other ballet schools worldwide, were faced with in mid-March 2020 was not just the inability to teach our students face-to-face, but how to keep them motivated and inspired to continue their training over the long six months of being away from the studio. We were so fortunate to have been able to tap into our amazing resource of the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, where over 20 dancers and choreographers, and other luminaries from the dance world, very generously participated in Zoom interviews and Q&A sessions with our students, both at Upper School and White Lodge, sharing their own experiences of how they were dealing with the lock-down and adapting to training in a confined space. I believe, or hope that the professionals may have benefitted from these sessions almost as much as our students did!
During the months of lockdown, we tried to find numerous ways to help the students and finally, in June 2020, we were able to return some Year 10s and 12s to White Lodge for socially-distanced classes. A start! In the summer, we made a fast turnaround transforming our physical Summer Intensive Course into a virtual offering of online classes. This proved more successful than we could have ever imagined with the incredible addition of seeing students from all over the world having access to Royal Ballet School teachers and classes. Thousands took part, a world coming together! It was humbling to see how focused and engaged young dancers were and where they were taking classes, some in the smallest of spaces and some even outside.
Now that our students are back in studio, we remind them of the importance of retaining their utmost vigilance in our new health and safety procedures to ensure their physical wellbeing. We have also urged them to consider their mental well-being as well, by allowing themselves the necessary time to return to their personal level of training before lockdown forced them out of the studio six months ago. Training in isolation will have required them to find new levels of self-reliance and focus but we are mindful that the return to the studio may also bring with it some level of insecurity. Our artistic team joins our healthcare team in their efforts to support our students in this expected period of transition and I have encouraged them all to enjoy this time and the feeling of dancing in a large space again.
What remains a priority for me is to create as many performance opportunities for our students as possible, one way or another. With the need to protect our student ‘bubbles’ within our School sites, we are not currently able to invite audiences in to see our students perform or for our generous donors and sponsors to view ballet classes as before. In the short-term, we will create virtual opportunities for the Royal Ballet School family to see our students perform via live-streaming. Kevin, Carlos, and I are discussing the possibility for students still dancing in productions such as the Nutcracker, however numbers may be reduced and much will depend on what is deemed safe as the weeks unfold.
It is my fervent hope that the following weeks at School continue as this one has begun, with little interruption or deviation from our ability to teach our students. I look forward to an uneventful Autumn Term, only interrupted by positive highlights of our students and encouraging news from the wider dance community as venues continue to reopen safely and live music and dance returns to eager and grateful audiences.
In the meantime, I wish you and your families continued good health.
President, The Ballet Association
Director, The Royal Ballet School