2020 has been a year like no other. We asked our Executive Director Mirna Zagar for her reflections on the impact of the pandemic, pivoting to digital, and her hopes for 2021:
Let’s start with a big question: how has this year been for you personally?
It has been a year of surprises on so many levels; I thought I would have lots more time, with all my national and international travelling curtailed, however I have never been so busy. I have been attending more international events and networking sessions than ever before, thanks to technology. I also have no excuse to not see works as these are now available 24/7! I have realized the power of relationships and our interdependency within the sector, and really value the overwhelming show of support from so many who continue to engage with The Dance Centre, and with me personally. It’s been hard to say no – so yes, more work. But this is what it takes and I find gratitude in realizing how meaningful this all is.
What has the impact been on dance artists in BC?
I think we will only know with any clarity a year or two from now. I can say that artists in BC, like those across the world, are trying to find their role. Some are adapting, others are reflecting, and there are those for whom this is a crippling context, even an identity crisis. What is my role now as an artist? is often what I hear. There has been a significant disruption to careers as tours and shows are cancelled, and it is increasingly difficult to plan ahead. All this means loss of income, so it is about survival. Dance is a predominantly female profession and women are often caregivers by societal default, hitting the sector even harder. In an international context, I do think we are quite lucky still here in Canada as the government has made efforts to support citizens, and public sector funders have also been quite supportive. This pandemic is testament how resilient dance artists are. Sometimes this resilience is misunderstood and people feel artists can survive on air – they can’t. It is not easy being a dance artist on any day and especially not during COVID-19 times.
How has The Dance Centre handled the pandemic?
We shut down in March for three months and then re-emerged with strict safety protocols. We have managed to keep our doors open and operate safely despite the challenges, evolving public health orders and increasing cases. We pivoted much of our programming to digital and found new ways to support artists: Re-Emergence grants helped artists return to the studio, and we worked with resident artists to adapt their projects. Most of our programs are continuing digitally, including our two presentation series, 12 Minutes Max, DanceLab, and our Power of Dance program for seniors. It’s been a steep learning curve which has required training and financial investment. However, nothing really can replace the live experience and we are looking forward to the time that we can all meet again!
What are you most proud of?
I feel we have much to be proud of. Operating a facility like ours in a safe way – although we can never relax, and must be constantly vigilant. Helping dance artists sustain their careers; continuing to share dance with the public. In October we partnered with the National Arts Centre to include two of our resident artists in the livestream program DanceForth, sharing their work across Canada. Our Discover Dance! and Global Dance Connection series now reach more people than we could accommodate in our 150-seat theatre. We always planned to step up our digital content but the pandemic prompted us to move much faster than we would have otherwise.
What was the most difficult aspect of the year to deal with?
Dance has always been precarious financially and the pandemic has exacerbated this, although The Dance Centre has always been proactive in generating revenue from many sources – studio rentals, memberships, ticket sales, fundraising. Our safety protocols mean studio rental revenue has dropped, and we have lost much of our ticket revenue. So now we are faced with the challenge of making up that difference with the current restrictions, constant change, and not knowing how long this will last, limiting our ability to plan and recover.
Has there been a silver lining?
The pandemic has shown that there are whole communities within our society who love and appreciate the arts. We are grateful for the attentiveness of donors who are coming forward to support us; it is gratifying to see how meaningful our work is to artists across BC; it is encouraging to see the difference our popular program the Power of Dance makes to the lives of seniors; through digital channels, we have a new and broader audience. These things tell me that we are not alone and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
How can dance fans help in 2021?
In this year unlike any other, there are things that dance fans can do to help. If you are able, please make a donation – no amount is too small; watch out for dance by local artists online, and make a contribution if you can; share information and your passion for dance with friends and family; advocate for the importance of the arts in our society. For the arts sector to recover post-pandemic, we need people to show they care now.
Photos: Tamara Navarrete, Mirna Zagar/Steven Lemay