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Dancer Diaries: Keeping up with COVID-19 times

by Carina Alejandrino-Arenas

The current pandemic has brought a lot of challenges to many of us, and it’s been a struggle to bring a sense of normalcy back the past few months. 

It is no doubt that the performing arts industry is one of the hardest hit because of COVID-19 -- aside from the great loss of revenue and livelihood from not being able to stage their upcoming shows, their performers also have to keep themselves creative and in shape until our country is deemed ready to go back to visiting theaters and enjoying live performances comfortably, most likely with our masks and in tow. 

Until then, these people will have to find ways to stay inspired. 

I’d like to share with you conversations with two people I’ve always admired ever since my days as a ballerina, Denise Parungao-Philipps and Marcelino Libao-- I hope they also spark some inspiration on how to cope with all the different emotions we are faced with today through the beautiful art form of dance. 


Grounded: Could you please give us an idea on what your ECQ routine has been like?

Denise: I try to make a schedule per week. I make sure I take class at least 5 times a week. Obviously I can’t make it through jumps because the floor is hard and I don’t want to get injured, so I try to do HIIT workouts as a substitute. There are all sorts of strengthening workouts on YouTube that I do too, it makes me feel better if I spend at least 3 hours sweating and struggling. Some days I try to do variations in my little space to get the feeling of dancing/performing and not just doing “drills” because during our season, performing really keeps me in shape. 

In between activities, I also have time where I just sit on the couch and watch series and movies which I rarely had time for before ECQ, and lastly, I finally learned how to cook. These two activities make me not go crazy too much. Make sure you slow down too, you don’t want to burn out yourself. 


Marcelino: My daily schedule at home now is very strict as I know if I do not have some sort of “routine” I will drive myself crazy. I wake up at 10:00, have coffee and breakfast, and prepare myself for my 11:00 Zoom ballet training with my teacher at Hamburg Ballet. After class I do a bit more of center work, particularly fine tuning my pirouettes for both sides, and fixing my port de bras which I’m very tough about. That would go on until 13:30. I would then have lunch and read a book as I digest what I ate. I proceed to my next ballet class around 15:00. I usually participate in Danzoom (a beautiful group of artists that is offering free classes via zoom) and I am loving the opportunity to learn from different teachers. I then do my work out. I usually do a lot of exercises focusing on strengthening and stamina so that if ever I do get back in the studios, I feel in shape and I won’t be shocked with jumps. On Tuesdays and Fridays, I join in a zoom work out particularly for ballet dancers (@ballet.beasts) as they really know how to focus on what dancers need. I finish the day with running, about 7-10km depending on which location I choose. And this schedule I do strictly from Monday-Friday. I go to bed much later than I used to, as I end my days with Netflix and/or catching up with friends and family. 


Grounded: Since the beginning of the ECQ, have you had any type of struggle as a dancer?

D: I am used to training 8 hours a day, this ECQ is a shock in my schedule and my body. Aside from not having enough and proper space to dance, performing is what keeps going and this year’s season was cancelled. It is a struggle to keep myself in shape and going when I don’t have anything to look forward to. It is so easy to get upset and depressed - It is a mental battle every day. 


M: It is definitely the struggle of not being able to perform, and being in a proper studio doing what I am passionate about. I obviously struggle with not being able to be with friends, and I am all alone in the house with my two cats. But the solidarity is not even the hardest for me, it’s merely the “not being able” to be who I truly and fully am on this planet that is heartbreaking.


Grounded: Do you believe that dancing has many health benefits whether physically, mentally and/or spiritually?

D: Undeniably, dance is good for the body. It’s like a low-impact cardio workout, it improves strength in bones and muscles. 

Dance makes me happy, if it makes you happy too, it is good for your mental health. Let’s keep dancing in these difficult times then!  

M: Yes in all of the above. Physical as one must have strength, coordination, and dedication to be a dancer and the discipline one learns from dancing is incredible. Mental, as dancing can always help anybody express and release what one truly feels from the inside. The amount of times dance has helped me in my mental state, I can’t even count anymore. And of course, spiritual, in ways when one dances and it starts to connect or feel or reach this unexplainable “dimension” through the art of dance, it is when you are moved by somebody through movements, that is when it heightens the spiritual experience. 



Denise dancing a piece choreographed by her husband, Joseph Philipps, on the roofdeck of their home


Grounded: Since the lockdown began, many have started feeling anxious about the future — can you please share with us how you are able to cope through your craft despite the restrictions we face?

D: I’m not going to deny that I feel anxious too, but I really try to be positive as much as I can. The idea of uncertainty, the idea of not getting back on stage is painful that’s why I hold on to “waiting” - that this will pass. 

Doing online classes makes me feel better, makes me feel connected and relevant still. There are days too that my husband and I record our dances and post it online and you get feedback from people; it is like a “virtual performance”. 

M: This pandemic is bigger than all of us, and no one is indispensable. We are all in this boat together. My advice is to try and stop thinking about the future, and take things one day at a time. We can’t fix and reach what’s out of our reach as we can’t control what is to come. 


Grounded: Some people are intimidated by dance — how can we teach them to approach it without thinking about technique and body capabilities too much? 

D: All these insecurities are part of dance. Even the best dancers in the world are not perfect. But the moment you accept yourself and you work with what you have, you’ll make it through. “Dancers are made, not born” a quote from Baryshnikov. Remember that dance is about discipline, dedication, and perseverance. Nothing comes easy. Making excuses is not helping you, you’re just delaying your progress. “Dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion” a quote from Martha Graham. 

M: During these hard times, we cannot make excuses of “intimidation.” Anybody can dance in solitude. Everyone should dance if in solitude. We need art more than ever. “No space?” “I don’t have the body?” Well, be creative. We have all the time in the world. Play music, blast out your favorite tune, and MOVE YOUR BODY. No one is looking, but your soul needs to dance!


Grounded: Do you have any advice for fellow dancers and non-dancers to help them power through the ECQ? 

D: It is okay to have good days and bad days, they are totally acceptable in these times. Have faith that this will pass and everything will be better. We are all in this together... apart. 

Take one day at a time and make sure you do something that makes you happy each day. Let’s take this as an opportunity to strengthen ourselves emotionally and spiritually. 

Just hang in there. 

M: My advice is to keep yourself creative and busy. Read that book that you never had time for. Learn something new, whatever it is, painting, another language, gardening, even carpentry. Call that friend you never had time to call. Clean. Just never stop moving.


A piece choreographed and filmed by Marcelino Libao performed by Alice Mazzasette & Alessandro Frola of the Hamburg Ballet


Will things ever go back to normal? We can’t be so sure of that, but the only thing for certain is that we can always choose to bring our focus to see beauty in the midst of our situation.


About the Dancers


Denise Parungao-Philipps
Filipino, 26 years old
She is a professional ballet dancer and principal at Ballet Philippines. She is also a part-time ballet teacher and married to dancer husband, Joseph Philipps.


Marcelino Libao
Filipino, 27 years old
He has been engaged as a dancer and choreographer with the Hamburg Ballet-John Neumeier in Germany since 2010.