Finding hope in a world without dance

By Sophia Lee, Royal Winnipeg Ballet

I was six years old when I started dancing. I didn’t know then that I would become a principal dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, but I knew I loved it. At school, when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always the same: I wanted to be a ballerina. When my parents put me in piano classes and swimming classes, the only thing I wanted to do was dance, and since then so much of my life has been about making that dream my reality.

Finding hope in a world without dance
Sophia Lee finds comfort among the trees of Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg.

All through my life, I never imagined that one day the privilege of being able to rehearse and perform dance would be taken away from me, but thanks to COVID-19 and the social distancing measures imperative to slowing its spread, that’s exactly what has happened. I haven’t danced since.

Looking back, I had no idea how lucky I was to be able to perform in front of an audience. When I’m on stage, I want the audience to feel the joy that I feel when I dance, and nothing has brought me more happiness than being able to express through musicality, physicality, and the love of ballet on stage before thousands of fans.

I can still remember the voices of the people who told me how they were moved by the performance and how much they took away from it. Hearing those kind word from the audience was always so important for me as a dancer, and though there’s a chance I may never get to hear those voices again, I do not despair. In fact, I find myself filled with hope for the future.

Dance, in its various shapes and forms, means so much to many people. The power of dance to express ideas and feelings without the need for words has always drawn people in and transcended barriers that otherwise prevent us from being understood. I firmly believe that no matter how we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, dance will find a way to continue.

For years, I have called the RWB my home away from home and throughout my career, both as a student and a dancer, the RWB has supported me in more ways than I can list. Their staff managed to keep the dancers informed and involved since news of the virus first impacted our livelihood in March, and we still hear regular updates regarding our hopeful return.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet continues working even now, diligently and in the midst of this pandemic, to bring dance to its patrons and to teach its students. In the interim, the other dancers and I have had to be creative with ways to continue to stay in shape and keep our bodies dance ready. Personally, I’ve turned my basement into a home gym, complete with a makeshift ballet barre and jugs of detergent for weights. I have also used this time away from the typical rehearsal schedule intensity to rest and heal my body.

More than anything, COVID-19 has created a time of reflection for me. As dancers we are always aware of our inevitable retirement, and this has given all of us a chance to consider what our lives will look like after we step back from the stage. I firmly believe that when the world heals and it is safe for us to return, I will have the opportunity to continue sharing my passion with the world, whether it be as a dancer, choreographer, or teacher, and I will be grateful to do it.

Finally, I would like to remind everyone who, like me, has had their life or their dreams interrupted by COVID-19 that this is opportunity. This is your chance to experiment, to try something new, to push yourself a little further out of your comfort zone than you have ever gone. Time is a gift and if you focus on small, achievable goals you won’t feel lost or disheartened, and soon you will have achieved something great without even realizing it. Remember that we’re all going through this together and the more we are able to do now, to support ourselves and one another, the better our outcomes will be.