Milestones, Motivation, and Gratitude
SF Ballet School Students Return to Studios and a Brand-New Dormitory
In mid-October, San Francisco Ballet School reached two major milestones: moving students into the brand-new Bowes Center dormitory, and welcoming advanced students back into studios for in-person technique classes. Both achievements have been made in accordance with public health guidelines and precautions at every step. The School is proud to have accomplished these feats—though it’s been a long road to get here.
After sending students home in March, SF Ballet School classes went virtual. Faculty, students, and staff quickly adapted to Zoom classes, holding more than 100 classes per week for all levels, pre-ballet to adult. SF Ballet School Director Patrick Armand credits the instructors for keeping students engaged in a challenging time. “I’m so impressed by the Faculty’s dedication to the students, and their creativity to keep students motivated and improving,” he says. “Ballet is a tradition that gets transmitted in the studio from teacher to student. The Faculty have managed to maintain that transmission. As a teacher, you have to work much harder on Zoom. Students are in the bedroom, the dining room, the kitchen—you have to be prepared for anything to make the class work for everyone.”
Armand is equally impressed by the SF Ballet students, “[who] kept the love of the art form and their concentration through those difficult months. They’ve been there the whole time, working. To see them that dedicated to the art form is amazing.”
Level 7 student Jacey Gailliard took virtual SF Ballet School classes for seven months at home in Pennsylvania and described some of the challenges of staying in shape. “I live in an apartment so I couldn’t do jumps or center because the people below us would complain,” she says. “My mom was also working so she’d be on a conference call while I was taking class. It was really hard!”
SF Ballet School received approval from the San Francisco Department of Public Health in mid-October to open its studios to the most advanced ballet students. The required protocol states that all students and personnel must be in masks at all times, physically distanced in smaller classes, and have weekly surveillance testing. Students across the country and world were notified that they could return to San Francisco, and in-person technique classes began on October 28.
Level 7 student Calvin Peterson described his journey: “I wanted to get back into the studios as early as possible. So my Dad and I packed up and drove from Colorado in his camper van and [completed] my [required five-day] quarantine on the road for four days plus one night camping in the Bay Area.
“Quarantining on the road felt long, but it was really nice to have the time with my Dad. We could set up a small patio to work outside or play games together. It was amazing to have the time together over the five days. That said, I was excited to take a shower at Bowes once we arrived in San Francisco.”
Last January, SF Ballet School and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music announced a partnership to build a state-of-the-art dormitory for ballet and music students, just steps from both facilities. The Bowes Center boasts a dining facility, performance and rehearsal spaces, and amazing proximity to the arts and cultural corridor near Civic Center.
The Bowes Center has a larger capacity than the School’s former housing. The School can now board more students, expanding opportunity to more non-local students and lower levels as well. Construction has taken over two years, and the final touches, such as the dining facility, are expected to be ready around Thanksgiving. “It’s putting the School on a new level,” Armand says.
Unless they quarantined on the road as Peterson did, students were required to quarantine in their rooms at the Bowes Center for five days upon arrival. Gailliard and her roommates “had a really great time. There was class every day, and I gave myself the week to focus on getting ready for being in the studios the following week. I [also] talked with my Mom a lot and we watched movies.”
Personal-sized marley mats, donated by SF Ballet Trustee Catherine Slavonia and her husband Mark, further eased Gailliard and her peers’ move into the Bowes Center and return to the studios. Marley is a slip-resistant flooring material used in the School and Company studios. In the photo below, Slavonia is seen delivering the mats to students outside the Bowes Center. Each student has their own mat that’s used for taking virtual classes and personal training in their dorm rooms, expanding their ability to stay in shape and continue training, no matter what restrictions may come into place because of the pandemic.
For now, small groups of students are taking technique classes in-person. Contemporary, conditioning, music, and other classes are held virtually. Still, Faculty member Viktor Plotnikov says, “coming back to the studios is a great relief. Even working in masks, we all share an energy in class.” Armand is also thrilled to be back in the studios. “Just to see them smiling, see them sweating” is significant after so many months apart.
Upon arrival to the SF Ballet building, everyone’s temperature is checked in the lobby before being admitted inside. Students, faculty, and staff receive weekly Covid-19 tests, and must wear masks at all times. In the studios, there are markers at the barres to stay distanced. And when moving across the floor, students travel in pairs, keeping ten feet apart while the others wait at their assigned barre spots. “While I would normally be very hands on in my teaching,” Faculty member Jason Ambrose says, “I’ve had to think of many different ways to articulate complex corrections without physical manipulation.” Student Peterson adds that maintaining safe distances in class has “added a new mental element to dancing.”
Patrick Armand, Pascal Molat, and San Francisco Ballet School students in class.
Nevertheless, Armand, Ambrose, Plotnikov, Peterson, and Gailliard echoed each other when asked how they feel about being back in San Francisco, and in the studios: “grateful.” Knowing that the year ahead will be full of changes and adaptations, Armand’s goal is to keep his students and staff motivated and safe. In giving thanks to everyone who has worked so hard to open the Bowes Center and get classes running again, he said “difficult times are when we realize how strong our bond is.”
Header Image: San Francisco Ballet School students in socially distanced class // © San Francisco Ballet