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Because of construction for a home renovation project, the house in which Theresa Bautista is staying has a dedicated room for dance (once you rid the floor of the dog toys). This isn’t true at her real home, where her dance space is limited to a 10-by-10 foot clearing in the living room, and where she frequently bumps into furniture. Bautista is a freelance teacher and choreographer who teaches for UK, the Governor’s School for the Arts and the Louisville Ballet School, among others. But, because of COVID, space really doesn’t matter.
“Everyone is dancing in boxes,” said Bautista, referring to conducting and participating in lessons online with the limitations of a computer camera. “You’re just looking at little boxes,” Bautista said, and “creating exercises that keep [the dancers] in their boxes.”
The hardest part of teaching dance online during COVID is creating community and making sure students stay connected even when they’re dancing solo. Performances create community and opportunities to perform are hard to come by during the lockdown. But, opportunities to perform are not absent, they’re just different.
In October 2020, during COVID, Bautista staged her work “Extra small living… in a not so large world” as part of the University of Kentucky Department of Theatre & Dance’s parking lot concert, “Once Vacant: Bodies in motion… still.” Students rehearsed online or masked together outdoors. The production was staged within a circle of cars, with the cars’ headlights providing additional stage lighting. The music was streamed through the cars’ radios, much like Kentucky Shakespeare’s production of “Macbeth” last fall, although Bautista drew her inspiration from a dance company in Los Angeles who also staged a parking lot dance concert. With the help of her filmmaker partner, Clayton Hable, Bautista has also been able to film some “screen dances.” She says that the downtime created by COVID has opened her up to collaborations with artists from other disciplines. “I’m always open for collaboration and to finding common ground,” she said. It helps grow her as an artist. Last summer, Bautista was awarded the Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship grant for choreography from the Kentucky Arts Council. It’s an unrestricted professional development grant. Her first thought was to use the funds to travel for professional development — perhaps an artists’ retreat — to work on her next steps as an artist. COVID foiled that plan, although she said that the past year has almost been like an artists’ retreat as the pandemic has opened up her ability to train with dancers from New York City all the way to Australia. As more dancers and dance companies are moving their works online, Bautista says, “you get to see things you don’t get to see [in Louisville].”
While the pandemic has the dance world dancing less, it has it talking more.
“We know there are problems in the dance community,” she said.
Black Lives Matter protests this past summer prompted practitioners to talk about inequality, cultural appropriation in the jazz world, whitewashing in the ballet world, body politics and dancing with disabilities. As an Asian American, Bautista began to ask, “Why haven’t I addressed my own race in dance?”
“Advocacy is happening,” said Bautista. BLM and adjacent advocacy have prompted dialogue in the dance community about education and expectation.
Recently, for example, dancewear companies have started offering pointe shoes and tights in various skin tones rather than just the pink that has long been the uniform for ballet dancers.
Bautista was born in Louisville, raised in Jeffersonville and is a graduate of Indiana University. She returned to Louisville to begin her teaching and continue her dancing career. She was a member of Art! Art! Barking Dog for six years. She was also the founder and served as co-producer of Moving Collective. During its 12-year existence, the organization produced festival-style concerts to provide local and regional choreographers and dancers a venue in which to share their craft.
Currently, in addition to teaching, she is serving as the choreographer of Providence High School’s upcoming production of “Footloose,” which will be staged in “one way or another” in April or June. Tickets to a “screen dance” that Bautista produced for the Youth Performing Arts School will be available on its website from February 17-21. Some of the Louisville Ballet Studio Company will also stage a performance virtually in May.