Life in a pandemic: The professional ballet dancer

28 April 2020

Written by: Brittany Carlson

Camille Bracher, a former Royal Ballet dancer, shares how her world of movement and creativity has been turned upside down by the pandemic.

Camille Bracher, a professional dancer living in London now teaching classes online.

In a time of such high stress and anxiety, ballet dancer Camille Bracher is trying to focus on what she can control, using dance as her escape and trying to find ways to give the gift of movement to as many people as she can. As the COVID crisis closes dance studios, Former Bracher is now having to manage the end of a professional contract, being far from her loved-ones, and facing financial uncertainty.

Bracher is originally from South Africa where she went to school and completed her dance draining. At 19, she moved to London and began dancing for the Royal Ballet. After eight and a half years with them, she left to tour with British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s company. 

With her contract with McGregor due to expire at the end of March, Bracher was aware she was going to have a change in her path, but teaching online classes wasn’t quite the change she was expecting. 

How have these difficult times affected your actual livelihood as a dancer?

I have lost all of my jobs. Because my family is in South Africa, I don’t have the option of moving home. I have bills and rent to pay. I’m lucky that I have got a bit of savings and I have some online private lessons but it’s only so sustainable.

What would a typical day have looked like before the pandemic and now?

A typical rehearsal day usually started at 10 o’clock at the studio. It takes me about an hour to get there, so I wake up around seven. It was a lot of public transport for me, so that is a big change.

When I get to the studio, we would do class until 11:30, have a 15-minute break, rehearse until 1pm, have an hour lunch break and then rehearse until around 6pm.

When we are in theatres and touring, we get to the theatre at about 11 or 12, we do a class then a technical rehearsal, we have a run through and perform that night.

Now I wake up around 8:30am, though I find my sleep patterns are weird, I have so much going on in my head. I start teaching around 10 and finish at about 11:30/12. In the afternoon, I plan my classes for the next day or I do my online pilates and then night-time is just Netflix, chill time.

Tell me about the decision to run online classes?

I started because my former colleagues thought it would be nice to keep dancing. So, I thought I could set up a Zoom just for us. But then I thought, ‘why don’t I open that up?’ because there is going to be so many dancers in the same position.

Then, I decided to do a half-an-hour workout session before I did the ballet barre, because it is important to give non-dancers an opportunity to work out, to move their bodies and keep stimulated at such a stressful time.

When I first started there weren’t many online classes, so I had a great response to it and then more and more classes appeared and I started to doubt whether I should carry on or not. I felt like quite a small fish in a big sea.

You received a message on your Instagram from a doctor thanking you for your classes, and saying they made a huge difference to her. Can you tell me about that?

Well, it was quite emotional because I was really doubting myself. But knowing that I am even helping one person, I knew I had to carry on.

I have a hospital close by, so I hear ambulances all the time and I get frustrated, I feel so helpless. So when I received that message, I felt helpful.

I questioned whether to share it on my social media or not because I didn’t want it to seem like I was advertising myself, but I asked her permission and thought, if I can inspire people to help in their own little way then that’s great.

How different is it to teach an online class as opposed to a face-to-face one?

It’s a big difference and I find it quite challenging, especially if you haven’t worked with the people before because you haven’t developed that connection.

Sometimes there are internet issues, you can’t see them clearly or the camera isn’t angled properly so it’s hard.

You want to interact with students, sometimes you need to touch them for corrections, which you can’t do. With my live Instagram classes, I can’t even see who is doing my class so I don’t know how people are coping.

Online you have to exaggerate everything that you’re saying and doing so it translates.

Dance isn’t like studying any subject, you need constant corrections to your body so, what impact do you think this will have on aspiring/studying dancers?

I think motivation is the hardest thing because even I have days where I wake up and I think ‘why am I dancing and teaching when there is such crazy stuff happening in the world?’

However, I also think there has been such an amazing response from the dance world and there is a constant source of inspiration.

There may be days, even weeks, where you don’t feel motivated but I think there is a resilience among dancers and there is group support and motivation.

I hope that young dancers won’t give up and feel deflated by this, but instead get more inspired and hopefully come out of this feeling like they have missed dancing so much, feeling more motivated to carry on.

I am a dancer and I have seen many of my friends who left dance years ago, and even some friends who have never been dancers launch themselves at online dance classes, why do you think people are now reaching out to dance more than ever?

I find dance is like meditation, concentrating on your body, losing yourself in the music. It is a way of zoning out from the chaos, stress and anxiety. When I do my classes, my life is somewhat normal.

I also think people are trying dance now because A) they have time and B) sometimes people are self-conscious to start dancing. Now they can do it in the comfort of their own room.

What role do you think the arts and creativity play in a time of such uncertainty?

It’s like being transported into another world. Forget about everything and just try to connect to each other, we are human at the end of the day. Art and creativity is something that we can share. Experiencing the world through a creative lens is important and I hope more people do it.

What are you most looking forward to when this is all over?

I can’t wait to go home and see my family. It is tough to be away from them. You just want your mum to tell you it’s going to be okay no matter how old you get.

Also just starting a fresh chapter and hopefully building my own brand and business and teaching.

 


Article: Brittany Carlson is a second-year Bachelor of Media and Communications (Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter @media_brittany.

Photo: Provided by Camille Bracher. Taken by Michael Groenewald (@oneimagined on Instagram).