A Virtual Graham Masterclass

UNC students dance with Graham dancer Leslie Williams over Zoom.

Jess Abel is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Carolina Performing Arts, and had the pleasure of joining intermediate and advanced UNC student dancers in CPA’s inaugural virtual masterclass, led by Martha Graham Dance Company dancer Leslie Williams, on August 20, 2020.

After a trying week for the UNC community, starting the Martha Graham Dance Company masterclass––CPA’s first-ever virtual masterclass––with a few moments of deep breathing led by Graham dancer Leslie Williams felt both settling and profound.

We inhaled and exhaled to the count of eight from our living rooms, bedrooms, garages, and home offices, connected by Leslie’s voice and identical movements as we moved on to stretching and then to Graham technique over Zoom. As we moved, we pictured ourselves on beaches and in meadows, we related the concavity of Michelangelo’s Pietà to Graham’s iconic and striking poses, and we became more fluid with our movements.

Williams leads the class through an iconic Graham sequence.

Particularly striking was the ease and grace with which Professor Heather Tatreau’s dance students learned the movements amidst the physical distance and less-than-ideal studio settings (trading in Marley dance flooring for shag carpeting, for instance, can’t be easy). But the energy of the class was that of literal and mental flexibility, positivity, and resilience.

By the end of the hour, the home office I was dancing in seemed to become an extension on Leslie’s studio. It was challenging and freeing, private and communal all at once, and as we were nearing cool-down two things were very clear to this arts lover: five months of quarantine had not been kind to my athletic abilities, and masterclasses will continue to be as deeply meaningful over Zoom as they ever were in person.

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