Pleasant Hill dance company gets creative on social media as they start in-person ballet classes

PLEASANT HILL, Calif. (KGO) -- Many arts organizations are having trouble surviving the novel coronavirus pandemic with performance venues shut down and funding limited. But one East Bay dance company is getting creative to survive all of this.

At Diablo Ballet's in-person summer intensive, 12 masked girls in leotards in a room, each standing inside a seven-foot-box with no air-conditioning - practicing their plies and jetés. They say the county and four doctors weighed in to come up with safety protocol.

They are practicing in Pleasant Hill after months of the dance world being shut out of theaters and stages to reach their audiences. Diablo Ballet says patrons, corporate grants and a PPP loan are keeping them afloat after their gala and spring performances were canceled.

They reinvented themselves online with one dancer posting videos of himself wearing a mask doing every day things like grocery shopping. The goal is for dance to spark joy. The videos are garnering online attention that is keeping the company looking forward with their toes pointed in the right direction.

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"We can make videos and share that on social media, and have that be shared with even a greater amount of people than we could even fit into a theater. I think it's wonderful and it can be shared globally," said apprentice dancer Olivia Cole.

The company posts weekly vignettes online on how movement can combat anxiety and depression. They are continuing to provide content to John Muir Hospital and the county juvenile detention facility via a new online platform.

"It's drawing a whole wider audience that didn't necessarily see Diablo Ballet in the past," said Lauren Jonas, Diablo Ballet artistic director.

Teenage trainees were happy to get permission to come back to the studio for three weeks of in-person training this week. The students line up six feet apart as their temperature is taken. Then, they sanitize their hands, one at a time, and take off their shoes as they go to pre-assigned positions in the studio.

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There is no air-conditioning for safety reasons so the open windows and doors in the summer heat provide ventilation.

"Is it hard to dance in a mask?," I asked Cole. "The first couple of days it was difficult, but now I'm getting used to it," she said.

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