Dance company grows staff despite pandemic
Without Covid-19 Courtney Lopes might never have found her way home.
She’d spent 15 years in the US, studying and working as a dancer, and was living in New York when the pandemic hit the city last year.
She waited it out for a few months before she reached the inevitable conclusion: “things weren’t going to be happening for a really long time”.
“A lot of Americans get unemployment benefits but I couldn’t apply for that because I’m not from there, even though I have a visa,” Ms Lopes said.
“I decided to come home and try to work.”
On July 7 she jumped on a plane and, like a number of Bermuda dancers succeeding on the international stage, was invited to join the staff at In Motion by its director, Lizz Pimentel.
“Right away Lizz was like, ‘You can teach.’ I used to do it a lot when I was younger – I would come home and teach for the summer – but in recent years I’ve been busy, I wasn’t able to come back.
“Now I’m teaching kids that aren’t kids any more, they’re 14, 15, 16-year-olds and I remember them when they were four, when they were five. So that’s really been special, just to watch how everybody’s grown.”
Covid-19 has had a negative impact on the arts as it has everything else. Ms Pimentel was happy to be able to increase her staff, from 8 to 15, at a time when many people had been put out of work.
“One ray of light on this otherwise dark Covid cloud has been the amount of talented women we have had return to the island. Some have graduated with dance degrees, some have come home from dancing with professional dance companies, some are continuing their dance education virtually from our studios and some are in transit to their next step,” she said.
“I think I realised, for the first time, the profound impact that all of our training, teachers, parents, experiences and support from over the years had on them.”
With their help In Motion was “one of the first studios worldwide to offer a staged showcase with strict parameters and safety measures in place last June”. An additional bonus was the “personal experiences and expertise” the dancers returning home were able to use to inspire students.
Added Ms Pimentel: “This feels like tremendous accomplishment and, with others training and looking to pursue teaching and performing careers, we hope to keep this number high and support our local dancers.”
Ms Lopes was 14 when she left the island for the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
“Lizz had faith in me,” she said. “I really wanted to do it and she pushed me so hard because I wanted it. I went off to a summer intensive for six weeks when I was 13 and after that I was like, I’m not coming back. I’m going away and doing this as a career.”
She then studied dance at SUNY Purchase in New York. Since 2012 the 30-year-old has been dancing professionally, most recently with Dance Heginbotham and smaller companies.
“I teach a lot. Usually I’m travelling and doing a lot of things but Covid kind of changed that.
“I was working still, but it was all remote. I have a tiny apartment in New York that I share with my partner and it was like, ‘Ok, I can’t do this any more.’”
By July, dance studios in Bermuda had reopened. Ms Pimentel allowed Ms Lopes to use the space to rehearse with her New York team when she wasn’t teaching.
“Which was amazing because it was a lot of space compared to what I was dealing with in my living room,” Ms Lopes said.
Ms Lopes has been extremely impressed by the ability of the dancers she has taught here.
“There are a lot of kids who take it very seriously and who are passionate about it. They get so excited to know that I’m still dancing professionally and able to teach them.
“It makes me a little bit sad because a lot of kids don’t think they can make it as a dancer, as a career. They’re like, ‘Well, I don’t know …. maybe I’ll just be a doctor.’ Which is great but, this is possible. You can do this if you really want it. Lizz does a really good job of exposing these kids to things so they don’t necessarily have to leave when they’re 14 or 15 like I did. They can get the same kind of training here – which is amazing. I really do believe that a lot of these dancers could be successful. The training that these kids have been getting, it’s incredible. I think Bermuda, specifically In Motion, is really on the right track to make kids believe in the fact that an arts career is still a way to survive.”
Apart from the other benefits she’s been overjoyed to spend time with her parents, Ricky and Lucy Lopes, having not lived on the island for 15 years.
“They were extremely happy to have me home. I never get to come for longer than two or three weeks at a time. So, we have made up for a lot of lost time. I basically grew up abroad, so it’s been fun to hang out as adults and do so much more together – a lot of cooking, long walks and talks that we never get to have. It’s been that way with my whole family, so it’s lovely to reconnect with everyone in new ways and to be here for fun milestones.
“It’s hard to be away so Covid really did bring a lot of joy with me being home. I’ve always wanted to come home for an extended time but was always too busy. I’m glad Covid helped me find that balance; I hate that it took a pandemic, but it was more needed than I expected!
The dancer left yesterday for New York where, thanks to outdoor performances and other gigs, she has “a really busy summer”.
“But then I’m returning in the fall. Lizz and I have been talking a lot and she is willing to work with me so I’m going to come back and teach full-time at In Motion but she’s going to let me go back and forth when I have shows and things in New York.”
For more information: courtneylopes.com; inmotionbda.com