Like most performance artists who have been cordoned off from their passions and livelihoods for the past year, dancers in Queens have had a really trying experience during the pandemic.
That’s where the role of dancer communities has come in during this period, according to Karesia Batan, executive director of the Queensboro Dance Festival, an annual summer tour of performances and classes across Queens.
Batan started the festival as a way to provide a venue for the many diverse dance communities in the borough to connect. When the pandemic hit, it was important for her to figure out a way to keep up that connection even if it was through a virtual medium.
Now, after switching exclusively to Instagram Live performances last year, the dance festival will emerge for its eighth season this spring and summer with a hybrid tour of livestreamed and in-person programming, lasting from May 15 to Oct. 3.
“A lot of the common themes that we’re seeing across all of the dances has very much been in response to what the dancers have been going through and how they’ve been feeling, because of the pandemic and really, it seems to be a resonating message of resilience,” said Batan.
Batan said that the programming has provided an outlet for many of the dancers to express the adversity that they have faced. Just about all the dancers Batan knows have lost a job. Because dancers are predominantly freelancers, that meant a big part of their livelihoods was suddenly gone.
“They’ve lost their teaching gigs because the public schools have closed or the dance studio that they work at has closed,” she said.
The festival will present 23 Queens-based dance companies, ranging in style from traditional to contemporary, including Dervish, tap, Indian, modern, Mexican, Greek, Filipino, hula, hip-hop and more, with most of the performances showcasing brand-new dance works.
The May 15 launch will be broadcast primarily via Instagram, and will include the sneak peek content and activities released throughout the day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., as well as several of the companies going live on the hour starting at noon.
At the kickoff, viewers will be able to meet all of this season’s dance companies online, while getting a preview of what the tour has in store for audiences this summer. Batan said that those interested should follow the dance company on social media in order to find out about showcases as they’re incrementally announced.
“It’s definitely been a challenge when dance is so magical when you get to experience it in person, when there is a direct performer and audience connection, and when dancers can be together on stage,” Batan said, but explained that in designing the programming, health concerns had to come first.
Ultimately the vision that she laid out for the festival’s virtual programming involves a simulated experience as though the audience is sitting there with the dancers and watching the show.
As the festival tours throughout locations across a total of 13 Queens neighborhoods, audiences can enjoy a full summer of over 20 outdoor dance performances and classes for all ages, free to the public and also available as a livestream on the Queensboro Dance Festival’s Instagram, Facebook and YouTube channel.
A handful of performances will allow a limited in-person audience following Covid safety guidelines. In addition, there will also be Instagram Live sessions every week featuring each of the 23 dance companies live from their home neighborhoods.
Audiences can find out more and discover the tour schedule by following @queensborodancefestival on Instagram, or checking queensborodancefestival.com.