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9 September 2020

Gemma (DDI Modern Theatre) teaches dance in the Bournemouth area of Dorset. For the past four years she has worked as a dancer, choreographer and director for Made to Measure Productions. This summer, she worked with a team of dancers to allow the ‘Pirates of the Pavilion’ panto to return for a socially distanced season at Weymouth’s premiere heritage attraction, the Nothe Fort. They performed twice a day from 17 to 23 August, at the Fort, which commands a spectacular view of Weymouth harbour – and all the ‘parked’ cruise ships that are such a symbol of the pandemic.


What were the pros and cons of rehearsing via Zoom?

It was very different rehearsing via Zoom. Obviously, space was as issue for the dancers as they were limited to their bedroom or lounge. But as rehearsals are all day most were in their bedrooms. Everyone was muted so would unmute if they had a question and there were always technical difficulties where someone would freeze and not see a section of the choreography or the internet would crash so there were a lot of obstacles to overcome when using Zoom. However, it did mean that we could rehearse without being cautious of social distancing. Dancers were able to screen record so they had videos of the dances that they could practice.


How were the dancers chosen?

We held auditions in March – luckily before lockdown! Dancers could apply online and on the audition day they learnt two dances. They found out if they were successful or not within a week. Unfortunately, none of my students were involved in the production as we used semi-pro and professional dancers, and in view of the pandemic all dancers were over the age of 16 so that additional people did not have to be involved as we would have needed chaperones for the under-16s. Many of the dancers had ISTD Tap and Modern exam levels up to Advanced One. A few also studied ISTD Ballet.

I have been teaching on Zoom during lockdown, which has been enjoyable, and the use of breakout rooms has been brilliant

Gemma Davis

How much time did you have together in person before performing to a live audience?

We had a day of rehearsals in person to space the numbers and check they were achievable with social distancing and that evening we went into our technical rehearsal. 


What was it like performing outside?

Performing outside was very different but enjoyable. Due to the area and the way the Nothe Fort is formed we had to run to get to and from the dressing room to the stage and walk/run over the top of the Fort to get to the correct side, so there was a lot more aerobic activity before we’d even started the dance so many of us found it harder than being able to stand in the wings of a theatre walk on and do the dance and walk off. 


Did the reduced audience make any difference?

The audiences were always very happy and many of them made comments about how lovely it was to be able to get out of the house and watch some live theatre. All the reviews of the show were brilliant and it was very well received. 


How have you and your students been pursuing your dance during lockdown?

I have been teaching on Zoom during lockdown, which has been enjoyable, and the use of breakout rooms has been brilliant with free work and helping students to work together whilst being in different places. 


Will you take forward any of the digital solutions you've used during lockdown into your future teaching or rehearsing?


I will take away the use of breakout rooms and paring students together to make up their own free work sequences and combinations as I’ve found this was a good strategy to get students to remember and learn steps and the use of counts.


                   A group of dancers


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