As Hurricane Irma made its way through the Caribbean last week, Sarasota Ballet principal Ellen Overstreet was closely following the news. Tracking its progress, she made plans with fellow company members Asia Bui and Madysen Felber: "Wednesday was the most stressful day. We went to five different grocery stores. There was no gas; there was no water. Our plan was to stock up one of our apartments and sleep over all together."
By Friday night, however, the storm had shifted west, its radius enveloping Sarasota and prompting many company members (those who hadn't already booked flights out) to evacuate. In a last-minute decision, Overstreet, Bui and Felber packed up a car and drove to Tampa, where they spent the night safely. Yet the storm progressed, and in another night flight they headed for Orlando to stay with Overstreet's friend's family. The central Floridian city saw flooding damage, downed awnings, and power outages like much of the state, but Overstreet says that she was in "a strong house and felt secure" while hunkering down to wait out the storm.
Few things are more terrifying than the prospect of 170+ mile per hour winds literally chasing you upstate. But the anticipation for Irma intensified sharply in Hurricane Harvey's aftermath. Last week, we reported that the Houston Ballet Center for Dance and its home theater sustained serious flooding damage. The company's first program has been postponed, to be performed at a later date in a back-up venue.
We checked in with some of Florida's ballet companies to see how they weathered this most recent storm.
Miami City Ballet
After wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and Florida Keys, Hurricane Irma narrowly swept around Miami. (Winds there were at the tropical storm level, not hurricane strength, but still up to 73 mph). A spokeswoman for Miami City Ballet noted that though the dancers and staff had to evacuate prior to the storm, all are safe and the building faced minimal damage. Luckily the south Florida theaters that MCB performs in were similarly spared, and all sets and costumes stayed dry.
Sarasota Ballet and Orlando Ballet
Sarasota Ballet experienced power outages, says Overstreet, and while rehearsals haven't started back up yet, company classes resumed this week. Orlando Ballet's new facilities certainly didn't need a hit from mother nature, especially following the mold infestation that closed the company's old building in 2014. We spoke with company member Ashley Baszto, who said that the company's building hasn't yet regained power since the storm, so they have been rehearsing at the Orlando Ballet School facilities across the street.
Rebuilding – How to Find and Offer Help
Fortunately, no injuries have been reported among dancers and staff at the above companies. Yet the South and the rest of the nation will be tending to affected communities for a long time to come, something that many artists and businesses in the dance world have in mind. During the crux of Irma, Atlanta Ballet offered its facilities to dancers fleeing north, including 29 students from the Harid Conservatory. Charlotte Ballet also hosted displaced dancers from Miami City Ballet and South Carolina's American National Ballet. Stagestep, which manufactures marley floors found in ballet studios large and small, is contributing 50% of its flooring system costs for studios/venues rebuilding after Hurricanes Harvey, and in a press release announced that it is expanding its assistance to Irma victims.
The American Guild of Musical Artists, the labor union representing many ballet dancers, has a special relief fund with counseling services and financial assistance for rent, utilities, mental health and medical care. In conjunction with The Actor's Fund, AGMA is also offering a special grant application for those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
If you weren't directly affected by the storms, you can get involved with donation programs among your local dance community. For example, Broadway Dance Center in NYC is offering community classes throughout Saturday September 16, proceeds of which will be donated to the American Red Cross.
Let us know how the hurricanes have affected you and of any relief programs in your area.