I have a son in kindergarten. Today he was learning about metamorphosis as I was thinking about how to respond to my administration regarding my needs for Fall virtual dance instruction. He was shown a caterpillar in chrysalis, or transition, on its way to becoming a butterfly. I wondered if chrysalis was painful. Did the caterpillar miss being able to wiggle and use its body upon the leaf freely? Did the caterpillar have any sense it would become a beautiful marvel, grow wings, and transform from an insect that would take all day to wiggle across a plant to one that would gain the ability to travel across landscapes in the same amount of time?
I wonder about this, because I feel like I am in a chrysalis, tucked into a tight space unable to wiggle and move the way I used to, mourning the loss of communal studio spaces. That our students who were learning to use their bodies in new and profound ways have now been bound up, tightened, restrained for safety during this pandemic. When will it end, what will it look like on the other side of COVID-19?
The field of dance is in chrysalis, it is changing, and it will emerge on the other side different. Productions will hold virtual auditions, artists will learn choreography and take class virtually, and one can only imagine what else. And, we will still come together and DANCE because even though technology has always transformed and given us more tools to disseminate and creatively frame our art, nothing is better than dancing and sweating with your community.
So what do we do during chrysalis? We prepare, we train, we create art. WE DO NOT RETREAT. WE DO NOT GIVE UP! It is our job to reflect the human condition. I have seen amazing and wonderfully creative dance online in the past three months. Most of the time it feels painful and frustrating. Other times it has felt exhilarating to be on a new frontier with open ended possibilities of connection (well, at least I have felt that way). In the interim, We train our bodies, foster growth and pedagogy, keep strong, wiggle in our small spaces, push, pull, work to transcend the digital divide, share, and transmute at home.
I want to be a butterfly when we emerge, able to achieve what was impossible when I was only a wiggly little caterpillar. I want my students to keep training, become innovative, lead the new frontier, and form a kaleidoscope of artists that fly beyond what our imaginations can currently conceive. I don’t know if a butterfly mourns its existence as a caterpillar or if it is so enamored with its wings it knows reflectively that the transition was a necessary function of coming into its fully realized form.
To my students, I know this is hard, I know you are sad, and I know for some of you this has actually been impossible. The butterfly you imagined you would grow into when you entered into a dance program seems like a wispy-unfathomable mirage at this moment. However, I know this, history has presented dancers with challenges in the past, and we have always endured. This time is no different. It is those who persist that will prevail. Those who prepare that will succeed when the opportunities come again. If this is your dream, continue on the path. I will help you. It might be virtually, but you have my word and my commitment to see you through and prepare you for the other side. I can’t wait to see you soar.
-Heather Castillo is an Assistant Professor of Performing Arts, Dance at CSU Channel Islands