Kristin Childers went to a dance party on Saturday in her pajamas. The clothes didn’t matter, because she never left her living room. The party took place entirely on Instagram.
A few minutes before, she’d been sitting on her couch reading the news, feeling like she was about to cry. Then she got a notification on her phone: Ryan Heffington, the two-time Grammy nominated choreographer behind Sia’s “Chandelier” music video, was streaming a dance class on Instagram Live. “The numbness I was feeling just went away,” she says. “I was like, ‘I’m just gonna do it.’”
As Childers danced, she saw comments and hearts pop up on the live stream. Almost 2,700 people were dancing virtually alongside her. “I was like, ‘Wow people are really connecting,’” she says. She’d had low-grade anxiety since the coronavirus pandemic started spreading across the United States. Now, moving alone in her apartment with only her phone to keep her company, she felt almost optimistic.
Heffington is part of a wave of dance teachers moving their classes online as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread. In California, where a shelter order has been in place since March 19th, all non-essential businesses — including Heffington’s studio The Sweat Spot — are closed. The result is a rise in social media offerings as people look to their phones to give them a sense of community and help them stay active during the crisis.
But Heffington is well suited to lead the digital dance era. He’s high energy and describes himself as spiritual. His philosophy is that anyone can dance — and anywhere, apparently. “I feel like this is my calling in life,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to make the world dance, and apparently this is the right time to make that happen.”
When Heffington live steamed his first class on March 17th, 500 people showed up. The following weekend, there were close to 4,000. “People that have always been intimidated now have the privacy to dance and are loving it,” he says. “The insecurity level drops considerably because they’re in their own homes.”
Heffington’s classes aren’t the only ones to go online. Dance Church, which calls itself “the dance party you wish you had last night,” is also streaming dance parties. Founded by choreographer Kate Wallich, it typically hosts weekly classes in New York, Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles. Now it’s gone fully digital, streaming on its own platform. Over the weekend, 10,000 people logged on.
Taiana Giefer, a Santa Barbara-based model and artist, is hosting dances on Zoom. She posts the link on social media, then DJs a class that anyone can tune into. She calls them social distancing dance parties.
To Heffington, this is proof that the pandemic is an opportunity for people to come together. “The crisis is showing us how we should function as a society,” he says. “This is what social media was designed for. It’s separated us in some aspects, but at this point in time, it’s kind of all we have, and it’s so beautiful.”
From her living room, Childers agrees. She’s figured out how to project her phone onto her TV, and pushed back her couch to have more space to dance. “Ryan’s next classes are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week, and I’m going to all of them,” she says. “Why not? I’m going to dance my way through this crisis.”