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Peridance Connect: Online dance for the community

Peridance Connect.
Peridance Connect.

Just like every dance studio across New York – and the world – Peridance Capezio Center was forced to close its doors in March, as social distancing lockdown measures took hold. Founder Igal Perry has since taken the school online, with a rotating schedule of dedicated teachers volunteering their time to keep Peridance going. Dance Informa spoke to Perry about working in this unique landscape, his plans for the Peridance Contemporary Dance Company and some helpful advice for students learning online.

“Just before we started talking, I looked out the window,” Perry begins, “and there’s nobody outside. It’s really eerie, kind of surreal. Luckily, I don’t live far from the studio, so from time to time every few days, I just go to water the plants and check everything is okay.” Perry’s description of New York City is reflected in the images we’ve all seen of Manhattan’s silent streets, an empty Time Square and a shuttered Fifth Avenue. So, what is a city-based dance studio to do?

“Obviously, there are no regular classes,” Perry says, “and people are getting used to it a little bit, but the first couple of weeks were a shock for everybody. We closed officially on March 17, so it’s been more than a month now. Our company, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company, had our last lighting rehearsal for our season, and then two days later everything was shut, and the season was postponed. The difficult thing about this situation is that nobody really knows what will happen; there’s no timeline on anything.”

Despite the challenges, Perry has been thrilled with the response to their new online class offerings. “In the beginning, I was very reluctant to try it because in my opinion, there’s not the same value in an online class,” explains Perry. “It’s not really possible to teach dance online for a long time. Dance is very of the moment, and there’s the need to give hands-on corrections – to touch somebody’s neck so they know how to fix it, for example. But it’s funny, I woke up one morning, it was a Thursday morning, and I thought we’ve got to do this, it’s really important. So, in three days, we organized the whole thing, and we started on the following Monday.”

Peridance Connect offers a weekly schedule of online classes with no set fees. Instead, Perry has set up a GoFundMe campaign for people to donate as they wish, to cover expenses for the company. “Everybody is working voluntarily,” Perry says. “We are running the fundraising campaign to support the company and the expenses that this incurs. Within our weekly schedule, we rotate the teachers, so all the layers of the school have an opportunity to get in touch with their teachers and take class. And, I have realised that for this period – which is not your everyday life period – this set-up is a really good thing. It maintains the momentum for people to be in touch with dance and with movement, to do something collectively even if no one else is in the room. We’ve found it really rewarding.”

Perry has been amazed by the level of support the classes have received and has been thrilled to notice alumni returning to join in with online classes and reconnect with the school. “One of my students who was at Peridance 30 years ago all of a sudden was in class,” he notes, “and I exclaimed, ‘Wow, it’s great to see you!’ The support we’ve been getting is phenomenal, and I’m really grateful.”

Perry has also established an International Guest Series to bring the global dance community and Peridance together. “We are in touch with a lot of great teachers around the world,” explains Perry, “and this is a great opportunity to connect with them. Last week, Wayne Byars from France taught ballet for New Yorkers and Parisians together, and Macia Del Prete from Milan brought in her amazing contemporary style. This week, we have Ido Tadmor, who lives in LA, and Michele Assaf, artistic director of World Dance Movement in Italy, who taught at Peridance years ago. Next week, we have Takahiro Ueno, an alumnus of Peridance who has become one of Japan’s greatest hip hop figures. It’s been great to recreate these connections. I think that, as difficult as these times are, we would not have tried to do something like this before. It gives me the idea to do things like this from time to time even when we come back to normal.”

Within these online classes, Perry and his teachers have had to make adjustments to the way they teach and correct their students, and he also believes students have to adjust the way they learn. “Students have to be much more aware of following what the teacher is saying and learn to correct themselves,” he says. “And, as much as space is small, they must dance fully, or it creates new bad habits. With my younger students, I’m really insisting on clean port de bras and clean postures, because when someone hasn’t got much space, all of a sudden their arms go all over the place. It’s not the same as being in the studio.”

The Peridance faculty have been sharing messages of advice and encouragement on the Peridance Instagram page, and it’s clear just how much community spirit is apparent, even from a distance. Frida Persson shared, “I’m grateful for this community and can’t wait to be back and hair whip and shimmy with you guys. Until then, make sure to keep moving, no better therapy than dancing.” Dan Lai said, “Let’s use this time to rest up old injuries, aches and pains so you can be 100 percent when you are able to dance again. Make the best of the situation, and find inspiration through music, movies, art, friends and family.” If you take a scroll down the Peridance feed, you’ll find many more words of wisdom and advice from influential dancers, teachers and choreographers, all of them seeking the positive amongst the many challenges.

Peridance Contemporary Dance Company. Photo by Rachel Neville.

Perry believes it is a testament to the strength of the arts community that so many are able to keep smiling through it all. “People don’t know how resilient dancers are,” Perry says. “The dance community is phenomenal. The news is very doom and gloom, and I think there’s a sense of fear because it’s the unknown, but overall there’s hope. When we run our classes, we talk about what we’re looking forward to, and there’s a real sense of help and support. There’s definitely hope.”

However, Perry is quick to point out that there is much more to be done if creative industries are to survive this pandemic. “Nobody is talking about supporting the arts except people in the arts,” he says. “We have applied for government support so that when we get back, we will have some funds to reignite everything and be able to pay our teachers, but I haven’t seen the government say, ‘This much money is allocated for the arts.’ It’s allocated for small businesses, big businesses, the airline companies. The arts need support. It’s sad that in a crisis like this, people focus on what they understand as their everyday life, but they don’t understand that art is so integrated into that life. People need the arts.”

Perry’s dedication to preserving the arts and their place in society means he has had to come up with creative ways to keep the Peridance Contemporary Dance Company functioning from a distance. “The company is going to release a special presentation we are working on now,” Perry reveals. “It’s a piece of ours that will be done from home, a piece that we premiered last year. Then, we’re going to be working on a new production in the next couple of weeks, choreographed completely online, so let’s see how that works. We keep creating.”

Creativity and passion are at the root of everything Perry is doing, and he remains ever optimistic that things will be back to normal soon. “I’d like to hope that this won’t last too long,” he says. “Let’s not get used to this kind of life. This is temporary, and as much as we are making the best of it, it’s important to keep our mind focused on coming back to work and back to the studio to dance again.”

If you would like to join Peridance for online classes, visit its GoFundMe page here for a weekly schedule and links to register for classes. Students must have Zoom to participate. Donations to the fundraising page are tax deductible and go to the non-profit Peridance Contemporary Dance Company, run in collaboration with the school. 

By Emily Newton-Smith of Dance Informa.

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