The (Ballet) Show Must Go On

By: 
Gabriela Medina
NO STAGE? NO PROBLEM. Students rehearse in one of three outdoor studios built in the Long Beach Ballet parking lot. More determined than ever, students did not let a pandemic stop them from doing what they love to do most.

Although several businesses and schools were forced to shut down because of a global pandemic, one special artistic trade school for classical ballet, remained open in an unusual way. It was through a virtual environment that had allowed the Long Beach Ballet to build a stronger community and it inspired Artistic Director David Wilcox to feel more motivated to keep his students dancing through unprecedented times.

The Long Beach Ballet had to close its doors to their team of 300 students, but by opening virtual windows on Zoom, everyone had to readjust to a new learning style that was completely different and nearly impossible. The cause of the shutdown had also led there to be a drop in students’ enrollment.

“It was horrible for us and on the kids because a lot of the teaching is hands – on it’s very physical. You have to mold their bodies into the right shape. It looks amazing but feels horrible. You can’t tell a person to do something that feels horrible because they won’t do it, especially on Zoom and miles away,” Wilcox said.

“So, Zoom was a huge setback, and we lost about a quarter of our students. Our older kids from early teens and on, have made up their minds that they want to do this for the rest of their lives, so they didn’t quit and were at home in their bedrooms doing ballet holding, on to their beds.”

Going from in-person classes to a virtual setting, did lead to a loss of techniques and it had slowed down on progress, but it was not entirely bad for Wilcox and his team. They learned how to live stream and use multiple cameras. It was these techniques that successfully helped the Long Beach Ballet with its annual fundraiser on Oct. 8, 2021, streaming 12 live and 12 pre-recorded performances.

“We learned how to use technology, we learned how to Zoom, we learned how to persevere in the face of challenges and obstacles. It threw a challenge in our path and we were forced to overcome it. We didn’t close, we continued our classes,” Wilcox said.

When safety regulations started lifting, the state allowed some fitness studios to open a limited space outdoors. It was no surprise that David Wilcox took advantage of the opportunity and built three ballet studios outside in the parking lot, costing him approximately $30,000. With parents still in fear of COVID-19, about a third of the students were not able to attend the outdoor classes, so Wilcox and the rest of the faculty and staff continued doing Zoom for them so that they can also dance.

Because of Wilcox’s determination, in allowing the opportunity for his students to continue training, several families became extremely loyal to the Long Beach Ballet. They allowed their children to keep dancing, considering that the majority were not able to go to school or do anything.

“I’m an optimist and I didn’t want to acknowledge anything about the pandemic. I wanted to do what we had to do to keep going. Everyone knows I’m doing everything that I can to keep the students dancing. I’m just trying to keep the students as happy as they can be. These kids are very special.,” Wilcox said.

The excitement of being back in the studio has the students and faculty eager to perform one of Long Beach Ballet’s most beloved performances, the Nutcracker at the Terrace Theatre this Dec. 17-19. Tickets for this year’s 38th Annual Nutcracker went on sale Oct. 18. To purchase tickets in person, go to the Long Beach Convention Center Box Office, 300 E. Ocean Blvd, Long Beach 90802 or to www.Ticketmaster.com. The Long Beach Nutcracker has won an award in 2018 and 2019 for the Goldstar audience survey that voted the production as “Best-Loved Nutcracker in the Nation.”

Last December, there was a very small production of the Nutcracker with scenery held in the parking lot. It was only advertised to the families within the production and not to the general public. This year, Wilcox and his team are beyond excited to perform on stage again, for everyone and hope to leave the audience mesmerized with the production’s use of magic tricks, special effects, pyrotechnics and their live horse, Rebel.

Wilcox believes in the theory, “An occupation as divine as mysterious.” Wilcox said, “We’ve been training the human body, to not look human. The ultimate ballet experience is when the audience believes it; where they look at the story behind the performance and believe it’s more than human. I’ve trained my students into believing that by hard work they can one day look not human and people would go ‘That’s so amazing.’”

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