The other day, Kati Mayo was gazing across the parking lot next to Charlotte Ballet on North Tryon Street. It was early morning. A slight breeze was blowing through the air.
“And it took my breath away, how beautiful it was,” said the Charlotte Ballet Academy artistic coordinator.
She was, of course, referring to the dancers performing in unison in that parking lot – not the concrete or the lined parking spaces.
The Charlotte Ballet Academy, which provides dance training to roughly 400 students all the way from 4 years old to adult ages, has taken to the pavement in recent weeks to allow for in-person instruction during the coronavirus shutdown.
And it has turned into a form of public art for anyone who happens to catch a glimpse.
Even though ballet classes seem as if they might be considered a form of entertainment or education, the Academy is classified as a fitness facility.
And because all gyms and fitness centers in North Carolina cannot open until the state moves into Phase 3 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan, the Academy has been closed since March. Moving to Phase 3 has twice been delayed by Cooper as coronavirus case numbers have remained at a steadily high number in recent weeks.
The Academy has been providing virtual instruction via Zoom and a prerecorded library of classes since the shutdown, but for many of the students, it still wasn't enough.
“When we heard that Phase 3 was delayed, that's when we realized we had to get the kids -- especially the advanced and intermediate dancers -- we had to get them in person in some way,” Mayo said. “We knew we couldn't be in the studio. So that's when the idea of being in our parking lot came to be.”
The idea actually took a lot of planning and preparation. The Academy provides individual barres and squares of Marley floors spaced out throughout the parking lot for each of the 14 or so students permitted in every class. Plans have had to be modified to accommodate the inability to traverse across the parking lot or interact physically with fellow dancers -- and to account for frequent breaks for students who wear masks while they dance as the summer heat warms up each morning.
Classes take place only in the morning for intermediate and advanced students, and it has worked.
“Everybody's hot and we're in masks and we take multiple mask breaks,” Mayo said. “But they've been champions. They're awesome. These kids have been phenomenal.”
And it’s been something that has drawn attention to those who spy photos of elegantly in-sync students on @cltballet’s Instagram account or happen to live in the next door Skyhouse Uptown apartments.
Wrote one clandestine fan on Instagram: “I live next door and have loved seeing the students in class! It’s awesome. I rolled my mat out and took a tiny bit of the class from afar like Annie in Bridesmaids. Haha. Please don’t send a bill. Those ballerinas do some hard stuff in class!”
The gawkers in search of a free dance performance have not been overwhelming, however.
“I think because we're kind of tucked away and we're not really right out there, that a lot of people, A. don't know it's happening, but (B.) also it's not a spot in the city where you would have a lot of people walking by,” Mayo said. “We’ve had a couple of people from Skyhouse while they're walking their dogs come by and just stop and watch. And I hope they enjoy it.”
These days, it’s one of the few forms of artistic performance permitted in our coronavirus world.
As for the Charlotte Ballet company, itself, its season is still to be determined. Digital performances have been posted online as part of a program called @Home With Charlotte Ballet. And the Charlotte Ballet has created The Resilience Fund for patrons to support the Ballet “through the extreme financial challenges resulting from COVID-19.”
This story originally appeared in WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry. Subscribe here.