BOYLE HEIGHTS, Calif. — Dancing on a boat while rolling along a downtown street might sound dangerous and spontaneous, but it’s meant to drive discovery and seek engagement with a community struggling with cultural voyeurism.
Santiago Villareal is a dancer with Heidi Duckler Dance and he’s preparing for "THE QUEST," a new series of site-specific and socially distant dance performances at Los Angeles landmarks.
“What inspired me to become a dancer was just the love that I have for dance and the passion for dance and how much you can tell with dance,” said Villareal. “I really wanted to express myself using nonverbal language.”
But before he can rehearse, he has to answer a few questions, including whether he has expeerienced symptoms like shortness of breath or loss of taste or smell over the past 48 hours.
COVID-19 put dancers in a delicate position. Venues closed, and dance companies needed to reimagine their shows. Fortuitously, Heidi Duckler Dance has been producing place-based performances that transform non-traditional spaces for 35 years, an ideal approach to creating socially distant shows. Eager to perform, Villareal was willing to do everything required to continue dancing.
“What am I going to do?” he said. “I just realized I couldn’t let it go. And I forced myself to continue dancing and go to Zoom classes and Instagram Live classes even though it wasn’t the same, but like, I needed it."
Anthea Young, Villareal’s dance partner, said it’s been difficult because Hollywood productions that hire dancers for shoots have had to limit the size of their cast — but there’s a silver lining.
“I find that there are opportunities that are opening up, especially for people of color to actually have an even playing field in commercial work and the teaching and convention realm, so that is coming available,” she said.
But that’s only the case for dancers that have already built professional relationships. Dancers starting out aren’t as lucky.
“It’s still not as much work, you know, pre-COVID,” said Young.
Despite the lack of work, for Villareal and Young, performing in "THE QUEST" is a chance to inspire diverse dialog within their communities.
“I feel like arts are the only things keeping us grounded as humans, and even if people don’t realize they need art, without art, we wouldn’t be who we are right now,” Villareal said.