After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.
The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.
Courtesy Lovely Leaps
Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.
So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.
How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?
When the Pandemic Hit<p>In mid-March, when competitions first began seeing cancellations, charting a path forward felt like taking shots in the dark.</p><p>"What made this thing so frustrating and scary was that we didn't know what we were dealing with," says Shari Tomasiello, CEO of Headliners. "We didn't know if it was going to be for a week, two weeks, a month. We didn't know if we would be able to reschedule events, or when we would be able to reschedule events."</p><p>While Tomasiello completely canceled some events, about 90 percent of her studios said that they wanted to move forward with competing, so she rescheduled as many as she could. Many of these eventually had to be canceled too—Headliners ended up holding just 12 of its 34 planned competitions. One of those canceled events was Headliners' Nationals, which accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the company's annual revenue.</p>
A recent Headliners competition.
Photo courtesy Headliners
The Reality of Pandemic Competitions<p>The few competitions that have gone on as planned since March have looked quite different from the norm.</p><p>Some—like Youth America Grand Prix, New York City Dance Alliance, Starbound and Break the Floor—have happened virtually. Tomasiello emphasizes that they aren't moneymakers, just opportunities to keep studios and dancers engaged.</p><p>Rather than holding a virtual competition, Lissette Salgado-Lucas and David Lucas, founders of Shake the Ground, launched a free online workshop series for their studios, and got to work formulating a plan for a potential in-person event.</p><p>In mid-June, Shake the Ground was able to host its first competition since March, in Jacksonville, Florida, with a whole new structure: studio blocks. Each studio had its own time slot in the venue, where the dancers performed all their routines in succession with a limited audience of one family member per child. Shake the Ground also livestreamed the events, as well as the awards ceremony, and trophies were mailed to the studios after the fact. (This was a popular setup for studio owners and parents, who only had to be present for a few hours instead of an entire weekend.) Shake the Ground was able to hold four rescheduled events in this format, including its Nationals, and several other competitions have implemented similar procedures.</p>
A recent Shake the Ground competition.
Photo courtesy Shake the Ground
Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.
"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."
How It Works<p>UBC has divided various scenes and divertissements that make up <em>The Nutcracker</em> into categories. (Think Party Scene, Battle Scene, Snow Pas de Deux, etc.) Studios and conservatories, along with individual dancers, are asked to submit footage of these scenes from previous performances or in-studio recordings (though costuming and makeup is encouraged) to UBC through the company's<a href="http://universalballetcompetition.com" target="_blank"> website</a>. The entry fee for each submission is $45, with multiple-entry pricing available.</p><p>The competition will be <a href="https://www.universalballetcompetition.com/virtual-competition-schedule/" target="_blank">livestreamed</a> on December 12, featuring all submissions that make up Act I, and on December 13, featuring all submissions that make up Act II. "We thought it would be cool for parents and directors to see, say, 20 different versions of Mother Ginger for future inspiration," says UBC co-founder David Lucas. "It's a fun way to promote the different studios who are all facing challenges, embrace the season, and learn from one another."</p>
Getty Images<p>The jurors for the competition include: Pennsylvania Ballet assistant artistic director Samantha Dunster, Kansas City Ballet School director Grace Maduell Holmes, Royal Winnipeg Ballet associate director Tara Birtwhistle, Orlando Ballet School principal teacher Charmaine Hunter and international master teacher Duncan Cooper.</p><p>An online awards ceremony announcing each scene's top three submissions (and their subsequent cast members) will be held on December 14. The first-place clips will then be strung together to create a final cohesive recording of <em>The Virtual Nutcracker</em>, which audiences can stream for free on UBC's website on December 19.</p>