For art's sake: How world-class ballerina strides through pandemic
Updated 22:28, 16-Dec-2020
World Insight with Tian Wei

Ballerinas are usually most at home in storied opera houses, which is why it was a pleasant surprise when Chinese Ballerina Tan Yuan Yuan made a surprise appearance on Hunan TV's hit reality show "Dance Smash" in November. The show's panel and audience gave the ballet legend a thunderous applause for her graceful routine. This performance was made all the more impressive since it was her first in seven months.

2020 began for Chinese Ballerina Tan Yuan Yuan as a capstone year. It was a year that marked her 25th anniversary at the San Francisco Ballet, 23 of those years as a principal dancer. March 6 was also the opening night of Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a ballet that was not performed in over 30 years. However, once the curtains fell that evening, they have not been lifted since. In fact, it would take a flight back to her home country and different venue for Tan to take the stage. CGTN Host Tian Wei spoke to Tan about how she copes as an artist amid the pandemic.

Tan recalled that after their March 6 ballet, all the performers were called backstage. The artistic director announced that all the remaining shows would be canceled due to an order from the city which closed the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. 

"For us, we were in shock. I never thought in my life this would happen," Tan said. "It was the first time to feel weirdness in my body." Tan explained that overnight the 30 remaining scheduled ballets were canceled and the 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. stage rehearsals with the troupe were also canceled.

Tan concedes that ballet dancers cannot take to the stage any time soon. Moreover, if the pandemic were to subside it would take months before the dancers could return to fitness. "For dancers without months of training, you need one or two months to get back in shape. You cannot just jump back on stage and dance," Tan said. She hopes that they can do livestreamed performances or perform for socially distanced audiences.

As Tan and her colleagues wait out the pandemic, they have found ways to both keep in shape and finesse their performance while under lockdown. "We have Zoom classes around the world that we can pick and choose. In one Zoom class there were 210 people. It was amazing to see some friends I had not seen in a long time. All the dancers cheered each other on. We encouraged each other to be strong for tomorrow," Tan said, adding that all of her peers around the world have motivated each other for their shared love of the art form and for their hope that the stages will be open soon.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a test for everyone, but especially for artists like Tan who juggled packed schedules before the lockdown. "To be a professional ballet dancer you don't have a life. You have to do a lot of things around ballet. On my free days I would sleep in, and meet my PT, chiropractor and acupuncturist, anything to soothe the pain. This is because we all have a lot of injuries. The next day we go back to training," Tan said, detailing her pre-COVID-19 life.

Since the lockdown, Tan has tried to compensate her previous hectic schedule with other creative and physical pursuits. "I never cross trained or did yoga and Pilates," Tan said. "But this is a time for me to explore. And since there are no rehearsals and partners to practice with, I find some cardio exercises that will help me work out." Tan cracked up while trying this new fitness routine.

Tan's story of striving to become the crown jewel in one of the world's most famous ballet companies is unique. But her dedication to her craft via creative and physical pursuits amid the pandemic has helped put a smile back on her face. The ability to harness an abundance of time in preparation for a post-COVID19 era is a beat we can all dance to.

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