Finding Our Light Again in New Spaces

While many theatres and performance spaces remain closed, artists everywhere are having to get creative with the art they can facilitate, yet feel additionally compelled to do so at this time of uncertainty. USF Associate Professor of Dance, Andrew Carroll, who specializes in ballet within the School of Theatre and Dance, discusses the ways he has been staying involved in the dance world which includes building both local and global connections for the university from his living room.

Prior to the pandemic, Andrew began making connections with a dance instructor in Mumbai, India named Antara Ashra. Initially reaching out for some assistance in not only teaching some classical ballet classes but also helping her set up a university type dance program in India, she asked several U.S. university dance faculty for their help. Her goal was to help create a program for her students facilitating a more Western world view of ballet, as it is not commonly practiced in their area. Carroll was one of the first to respond and maintain a dialogue with her, realizing the importance of this connection and delighting in the opportunity to work with her students to learn from them as well. They had momentarily lost connection when the pandemic hit but their relationship soon resurfaced as Antara realized the opportunities still possible at this time and asked Andrew to teach some virtual classes.

Ballet exists all over the world; each country and company putting their own flair into it. But Ashra, while appreciative of her country's cultural adaptation of the dance form, also wanted the formal neo-classical training for her students that Carroll was able to provide. She wanted her students to be well-versed in all forms of dance which includes the “true, pure, fundamentals of Western ballet” so he started teaching masterclasses over Zoom to about 15 dance professionals from around their area. It posed its own set of challenges such as the significant time difference and limited space for dancers in their homes, but everyone enjoyed this opportunity amidst the chaos. 

Professional dancer, Pia Sutaria at the Institute of Classical and Modern Dance in Mumbai even contacted him to personally choreograph a piece for her through this connection. In doing so, Carroll and Sutaria were able to create a piece that could be performed two ways—one on a standard stage and one in open space. This way, regardless of circumstance, she could perform this piece professionally. They are keeping in touch to continue working together. In the future when things are safer, Carroll has been invited to visit Mumbai to teach in person. He says he would just love for that to become a reality so that he can meet all the wonderful dancers he has become so close with and, in turn, learn some of their culture and style to incorporate into his teaching here at USF. He would also like to provide this experience for some USF dancers and alumni to have the opportunity to work with them collaboratively in the future as well.

Another way he has been keeping involved during the pandemic is by continuing to work with Dance for PD which is an organization that helps people with Parkinson’s. The Dance for PD program is an excellent way for people with Parkinson's disease to “experience the joy of artistically moving through dance,” he says. Carroll realized a few years ago that there was no local chapter here in Tampa so helped facilitate one with the help of Arts4All Florida. While he has been involved in working with this group for a few years now, he said his classes “Parkinson’s in Movement” are currently booming in attendance due to the virtual aspect of people being able to join online. People from all over the country are now stopping by each week to check out what he has to offer. While he hopes to be able to meet in person again soon, he is thrilled by the growing numbers he is getting online and hopes to continue with that component to some extent moving forward.

Carroll feels that by creating these global, national, and local connections, it allows himself and others in the dance and arts community to “still sit at the table with people” so to speak. Just doing so virtually. He says “you can either let the room go dark or find new light, but you’ve gotta keep your house lit somehow.” Of course for some, things are darker than others amidst this pandemic, but hopefully, some of these new practices and collaborations can help provide a bright spot for other artists, educators, and creators as we all try to find our light again.