Making technology and dance beat in rhythm

Illustration by Amy Czachowski

From art walks in the heart of downtown to poetry slams in coffee shops and murals weaving throughout the streets, Flagstaff can seem like a hub for creativity. However, these unprecedented times can make it difficult for art to be enjoyed. One business channeling their creativity despite challenges with COVID-19 is the Human Nature Dance Theatre (HNDT) as the studio has worked to incorporate technology and dancing as a way to continue to connect with the community.

Jonathan Stone, the executive director of the Flagstaff Arts Council, works with the community to strengthen Flagstaff’s creative sector. When it comes to Flagstaff, Stone said there are two things to consider in respect to COVID-19 and how it is impacting the arts. One is that artists, nonprofits and businesses rely on public support to keep doing what they do. This includes selling paintings, tickets to a performance or soliciting donations for a project or program that otherwise isn’t possible.

“During this crisis, we are all feeling economic uncertainty and our favorite events or places that we typically go to support the arts aren’t open,” Stone said. “Without continued financial support for the arts, we may lose some of the vibrancy that we love about Flagstaff.”

The second point Stone said to consider about COVID-19's effect on the arts is that creativity is what can connect the community, even in a time of distancing. He said this connection can be seen by inspiring examples of people locally and internationally, such as individuals singing on their balconies in unity in Italy. He said people are turning to hobbies that may have been long forgotten and channeling their inner creativity as a way to communicate with loved ones they may not be able to see regularly.

Stone said Human Nature Dance Theatre is good at incorporating technology with the art of dance. When they last performed at Coconino Center for the Arts (CCA), they did so alongside a video that was made just for NightVisions, a collaboration with the Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition. Stone said the dance studio is continuing to incorporate technology during the pandemic, as dance classes have been moved to using virtual instruction.

Jayne Lee, the executive director of the studio, said the dance studio produced over 30 original works. They show their work regularly in Flagstaff, throughout AZ and occasionally further afield. She said HNDT was the recipient of the 2008 Otto Rene Castillo Award for Political Theatre in NYC and has been featured in “Rising” a film about sculptor John Waddell, shown on PBS. They were funded by the Smithsonian and Dark Skies to create Dreaming Dark shown at CCA and the Hubble Heritage website. HNDT has been a part of Flagstaff since 1994 and has many more achievements to list.

Collaborations are done to emphasize experimental, environmental, cross-disciplinary and inter-generational perspectives, Lee said. She said their work at HNDT can be a model for how diverse people can support and learn from one another in artistic collaboration.

Tom Martin, a Tango instructor at the studio said he and his wife Hazel Martin dance together. He said dancing with one’s partner is a way to connect with each other after spending all day working on a keyboard.

“Hazel and I dance in the living room and we watch instructional programs,” Martin said. “But it’s just not the same.”

To overcome the obstacles distancing has created, Lee said the studio is setting up online classes via zoom so the community can participate in dance and movement classes while at home. They will be starting April 13 every morning from 9:30-10:45 in the morning. She said they are researching other ways HNDT can interact with the community online. Updates and more information can be found on their website.

Lee said dancing makes individuals want to move and helps people engage with others in the community in a creative way. It is a way to develop physical skills, engage with others in the community, be creative, have fun and improve one’s health.

It’s during these times that Stone said support within the community is important and appreciated. The arts council has launched a relief fund to support nonprofits like Human Nature Dance Theatre.

The arts council is currently accepting donations to help meet a $5,000 challenge grant pledged by Flagstaff Rotary Club and are asking anyone who can donate and however much to help raise an additional $5,000. In doing so they would be able to have at least $20,000 to give to nonprofits in need. More can be found on their website.

“Flagstaff is stronger because we are an inherently creative community,” Stone said. “We solve problems, we explore, we discover new things, we are expressive, and we are connected all because we aren’t afraid to create. We will be resilient during and after this pandemic has passed because of our creativity.”

While practicing social distancing and staying home as much as possible, artists and enthusiasts agree it is important to stay #creativeflagstaff, whether it’s through new hobbies, re-discovered hobbies or even dancing.