The COVID-19 crisis has been terrifying, confusing and heart-breaking, but fortunately the lockdown has birthed some new, exciting global initiatives, services and resources. One of those great new resources is The Virtual Dance Center (VDC), created by beloved Joffrey Ballet School teacher Matthew Prescott, well known to Australian dancers from Joffrey Ballet School audition tours and his popular classes at Victorian Dance Festival.
VDC is an online studio that dancers can access from the comfort of their home, or studio, now that restrictions in Australia have been lifted. VDC allows students to take Zoom classes from world leading instructors representing the best of ballet, jazz, musical theatre, commercial, hip hop and contemporary. All classes have a limited number of students to ensure personalised attention from each instructor, and dancers just simply register online for the classes they’d like to take, much like a regular drop-in studio.
Here, Dance Informa chats with Prescott about VDC and how Australian dancers can take advantage of this new service.
What inspired you to start Virtual Dance Center?
“VDC was born out of the times we are all living through. I found myself sitting in my 400 sq ft apartment in New York City in April, with no way to make a living. All of my work as a teacher came to a screeching halt as the global pandemic set in. Working as a freelance teacher/choreographer, I wasn’t initially eligible to collect unemployment benefits, and even when they did extend the benefits to freelance and gig workers, it was not immediate, and the process was chaotic. I had to do something to keep the lights on in my apartment.
One Sunday morning, I was sitting drinking my coffee on the couch and told myself I had to figure something out because I realised nobody was going to come to save me at this moment. Initially, I thought I would gather a few students periodically in a Zoom class. However, I soon realised there was an opportunity to make something that was beyond just me. I knew that I could create a space where dancers from all over the world could continue to train in all styles of dance and be inspired to continue to follow their passions despite the new world we found ourselves in. I also realized I could create a space where teachers could continue to do what feeds our soul while also making some money.
I also needed a way to connect with people during that time of so much isolation. I had to do something to survive. VDC was created out of this need to survive the moment and beyond.”
How has VDC been received by the dance community?
“I’ve had wonderful reactions from the community. I’ve been so fortunate to have incredible teachers like Ben Cook, Gaby Diaz, Joshua Burrage, Allison Burke, Sebastian Vinet, Johanna Sapakie and many more that represent many different styles and aspects of our community.”
How is VDC making a difference during this difficult time?
“VDC has allowed so many dancers to work with teachers and performers that they may not have the chance if they weren’t in cities like New York City or Los Angeles. We are continuing to connect dancers around the world through our love and passion for dance. In a time when there was so little hope, it has been inspiring to see the students at VDC connect and make lasting friends. There’s been a group of students taking a musical theatre class with Ben Cook who, after two classes, started to meet outside of the VDC classes via Zoom. They soon had written their version of Newsies entitled ‘Zoomsies’ that they rehearsed and performed. With the mission of the arts to connect us as our guide, we’ve been able to spread joy and inspiration at a time of so much uncertainty.”
Do you think virtual dance classes are the way of the future and that they will now be in-demand for years to come?
“I’ve been so impressed with how students have adapted to the new reality that we were all forced into. In the beginning, we were all skeptical that without an actual dance studio to be in, there would be no way to continue to train and dance in a meaningful way. I have experienced the opposite with my students. Once we understood that the experience was going to be different than what we were used to, and let go of expectations, we could occupy the new space we find ourselves in and continue to grow. I’m able to accomplish the same objectives as a teacher, albeit through a different method than in the past, and dancers can continue to train and be inspired.
With our new awareness and comfort level in the virtual dance world, I don’t see how it could ever just go away. We are sadly a long way from being back in normal studio settings in the USA. As the virus continues to ravage parts of this country, dancers still want to be able to dance in a safe and healthy environment. Once studios do open, there is no reason that VDC cannot still offer exceptional dance training to dancers all around the world.”
To check out The Virtual Dance Center and sign up for a class, visit thevirtualdancecenter.com. The class schedule is on New York/Eastern Daylight Time, but you can easily do a time conversion here: 24timezones.com/difference Happy dancing!
By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.