“I didn’t overthink it. I’m a person of feeling and energy; I just go for it,” shares Shani Talmor, describing how she jumped right into virtual teaching when lockdowns came last March. The salsa star had just come off filming Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, and prior to that had been touring with the Broadway show, On Your Feet!. In between performing, she had been judging and competing on the weekends. Her dance schedule was full, to say in the least.
While a lot of that has had to be on hold due to COVID, she’s still teaching virtually, creating communities around the art that she loves and getting creative inspiration. Dance Informa spoke with Talmor as part of our “Dance life in quarantine” series: how elite dancers are staying in shape, keeping their creative fire alive, giving back and generally “making it work” through this unprecedented time.
Class must go on
Right before the lockdowns came, Talmor had been planning to teach a lot and promoted her classes heavily — having just wrapped up work on In the Heights and with more time in her schedule for that. She was still fired up to teach, even if it had to be virtual. So that’s what she did, she says. That was on Instagram at first, and from those standard classes grew “Creativity Labs” — spaces to move, collaborate and generate ideas together. That shifted to Zoom, and she was starting to get people from all over the world in her classes. A community grew out of these classes, and — being scheduled on the weekends — was something to stand in for the teaching she had always done on the weekends before COVID.
“It was like I had my own little mini salsa congress every weekend, and that helped with the change in my schedule,” she says, having gone from constant performing and teaching to being confined to her NYC apartment. It was also incredibly gratifying to hear students in her virtual class community tell her that her class was making a huge difference for them in these challenging times, and express genuine gratitude for that. Yet, she’s definitely missed her dancing life as she knew it, and she’s seen the same of many in the salsa and ballroom communities, she says.
So much of ballroom, whether Latin or standard forms, relies on partnering — and not everyone has someone in their COVID “bubble” who’s their dancing partner (or at least has the technical facility and know-how to stand in for one). Without a partner, what they can work on is footwork — but a key part of the artistry is smoothly transitioning from non-partnered footwork to partnering, Talmor notes. That’s been challenging for ballroom dancers during COVID times, and she’s heard some ballroom dancers say that they haven’t danced in months, she says. She’s seen the emotional toll that it’s all taken on the community.
For her personally, she’ll get reminders of competitions from before COVID — such as with tags on social media — and “it pinches the heart,” she says. Yet, creating class content, connecting with her students through class and seeing the impact that her classes have has kept her going, Talmor shares. She always understood dance’s therapeutic impact, but she’s seeing that now “on a whole other level,” she says.
Making and sharing
Asked if she’s been creating choreographic work outside of class content, she laughs and says that’s funny, because in the past couple weeks, she’s realized that she hasn’t created just for herself as an artist in awhile — and she’s started to get ideas through which she can change that. She keeps her creative juices churning through teaching, yet “something for a show and with a concept — that’s something that’s missing for me,” she says. As one concept she’s having inspiration to create, there’s a song with an urban vibe and an arrangement that she loves and she’s feeling inspired to put movement to.
At first, she was thinking she’d make a solo for herself, but then she started to consider setting it on a few of the dancers in her class community. She’s thinking of creating a virtual show, free of charge. “We can support audience members, and they can support us, and we can spread access to the arts!” she says enthusiastically. A raffle can top off the night. “I just want to do it for fun, and I hope you feel what I feel when I dance!” she adds. Talmor is also thinking of setting work on a group of kids she teaches in L.A., and then filming it.
She’s also eagerly awaiting the release of the In the Heights film, which was postponed from July 2020 to July 2021. It’s uncertain if the release might be delayed again. Talmor believes that the film is so spectacular that the medium in which it’s released must do it justice. “If it’s released three years from now, it’ll still be a really impactful film,” she says. As far as the dancing is concerned, she believes that the best dancers in each dance style in the film were involved. “Some dancers came from other cities, but the dancing really demonstrates the best of the New York style in each type of dance represented in the movie.”
As with her classes, the community aspect of the film is the truly meaningful thing to Talmor — to be and move together in space, and enjoy the energy that doing so creates. “I’m very much a community person,” she says. “It’s not about people coming to my class and paying $15, or how many likes I get. That’s great and all, but it’s really about that community and feeling that energy with everyone.”
Talmor adds, “Some people in the dance community say that they can make it alone, but in reality, that’s not how it can work. Being alone is not human nature; we’re meant to be with other people.”
Pandemic or not, Talmor isn’t overthinking it — she’s just doing what she can to keep the dancing communities and the dance art that she loves fully alive.
You can follow Shani Talmor on Instagram: @shanitalmor.
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.