The Yard keeps on dancing during coronavirus

Making It community and education associate Claire Page drew inspiration from the Island’s flora for the Yard's fourth movement prompt. —Photos: Left, Claire Page, and right, Neil Howell

Rather than herald its summer lineup this time of year, the Yard dance and performing and creative arts platform in Chilmark announced that they would cancel performances through at least the end of June due to the coronavirus pandemic. But, in keeping with the fabulous performances, residencies, and community dance opportunities the Yard is known for, they are using this new internet community engagement era to help keep everyone connected. Jesse Keller Jason, director of Island programs and education, is still busy organizing events; she’s just doing it virtually these days.

Keller Jason offers her Adult Community Dance Class twice a week through the West Tisbury library at 2 pm on Mondays and 10:30 am on Wednesdays using Zoom.

“It’s an hour-long live movement class,” Keller Jason explained. “You can do it in your home and you won’t need a ton of space. I’ve been staying really busy trying to find a new way of working. Typically, I’m running from one class to another class and our teachers run all over the Island. Remaining connected is a new way of navigating the art form for sure.”

The Yard staff usually works in Island schools and in other community venues in the off season, and Keller Jason has had to adjust to her own new normal. She and the rest of the staff had a tough time deciding to cancel the planned schedule on the calendar for May and June. The Yard is a small organization, Keller Jason said, and they care deeply about the artists they work with and the Yard’s place in the Island community.

“I’m finding I’m so used to my job and dance as a community art form that it’s been a real adjustment not to be constantly surrounded by people,” she said. “I do a lot of my own personal maintenance, walks and yoga, and I’m so thankful that we live where we live. I have a lot of friends in New York in tiny apartments. Here, we can step outside and breathe some fresh air.”

Besides the live-streamed dance classes, if you visit the Yard’s Facebook page, you’ll find some interesting prompts to get your creative juices flowing. One exercise had folks taking a photo outside in nature and then taking another shot of themselves bending their bodies to flow with the scene in the photo. You’ll find news from your favorite Yard performers shared there as well. Yard alum Dan Froot offered a free three-part oral history workshop last weekend, and other alums were part of an Arts on Site performance party live streamed last Saturday.

Even though the Yard and Keller Jason recommend using virtual options to stay close, they also accept that now is a trying time for everyone.

“It’s OK to take as many breaks as you need. Some days you feel more emotional than other days . . . it’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and you need to allow yourself to tap out sometimes.”

The Yard offers plenty of ways to keep out of your own head space by focusing on creative art forms you can do easily. They offer short prompts to get your body moving and to get you outdoors. “Looking at something beautiful does help right now,” Keller Jason said. 

The best way to stay connected with the Yard is to visit their website, Facebook page, and find them on Instagram @dance_the_yard. Try one of the prompts and send them your photo or video to share.