When I pictured my professional performance debut, I hadn't anticipated dancing on my family's washing machine for a promotional video. I guess I hadn't anticipated the onset of COVID-19, either.
I always imagined that the summer before joining my first ballet company would be filled with intense training, building my technique and stamina for rehearsals in the fall. But the pandemic had other plans. Starting in March, I had to resort to taking online class in the basement of my family's house in Pittsburgh. My graduation from Butler University was canceled, and Eugene Ballet, the company that offered me entry into the professional world, had to delay rehearsals until November 23 and can only offer maintenance class for the time being. (Enter Eugene Ballet's promotional video to boost morale, filmed from our laundry rooms, yards and kitchens in June.)
Maximilian Tortoriello, Courtesy Kyra Laubacher
I auditioned for Eugene Ballet on March 1 in New York City, barely missing the explosion of coronavirus cases that shut down the boroughs and devastated countless lives. I thanked my lucky stars that I was able to audition safely—and receive a contract, no less—before lockdown and escalating cases shook our country to its core. Despite all the unexpected twists and turns, my career path was still on track.
That said, as my move to Eugene approached I knew I was nowhere near the shape I was in before the shutdown, and it was a jagged pill to swallow. I used to dance for hours a day as a member of Butler University's dance department, and I was able to do it alongside my closest friends and mentors. By mid-July at home, my 5x5-foot square of marley, piece of cardboard (placed under the marley to emulate sprung flooring) and little wooden barre seemed the definition of luxury, and my dog Tai was a regular addition to Zoom class. Sure, it was hilarious to see him go nuts during frappés, but I felt anxious that my technique and stamina were suffering without access to a studio, especially since I'd be moving to Eugene and making my first professional impression in only a few weeks.
Laubacher performing for a Eugene Ballet promotional video from her family's laundry room in June.
My pointework, especially, had taken a hit. At Butler, I used to take center on pointe, followed by additional pointe classes, pas de deux and rehearsals into the evening. With less-than-optimal flooring at home (carpet, concrete or slick wood that wouldn't hold the marley in place), I was lucky if I got 10 minutes in before fear of injury took over. Even on flat in technique class, with my marley square on the carpeted floor, any extra ankle stiffness or hip twinges heightened my anxiety. Traveling combinations proved tricky, and jumps larger than sautés were out of the question.
As much as I tried to home in on internal awareness (which, thankfully, did improve), I feared that bad habits would take over. Three years ago I underwent hip surgery because of incorrect placement, and that was an experience I would rather not repeat, especially now. Yet I also felt guilty—with so much uncertainty, fear and tragedy filling the world, considering my own career seemed wrong.
A bottle of hand sanitizer and a social distancing sign at Eugene Ballet's studios
Then there was another worry: traveling to Eugene during the pandemic. What if I contracted COVID-19 along the way, and either got sick or passed it on to someone else? The mere idea of relocating to begin a new career is nerve-racking enough, but the pandemic added another level to the equation.
Thankfully, I arrived in Eugene safely a few weeks ago. When my roommate and I moved into our apartment, I had to pinch myself thinking about it all. It wasn't until one of my first socially distanced classes in the Eugene Ballet studios, as I stretched in that classic Degas leg-on-the-barre position, that it hit me: I'm here. Even if it's just maintenance classes for a while, in spite of everything unexpected, the world has allowed me to make it this far. And now, amid the physical-distancing signs, sanitization bins and face masks, goodness knows I'm ready to keep going.