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Historia Publication logo May 28, 2021

Reporting From Home in the Middle of a Pandemic

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A ballerina uses paint to touch up ballet shoes.
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Dancers from international powerhouses started the Venezuelan ballet scene in the early 20th century...

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Ballerina Astrid Arvelo smiles during a phone interview.
A phone interview with Astrid Arvelo, soloist with Ballet Teresa Carreño. Image by Lexi Parra. Venezuela, 2021.

One of the many things I take from dance is determination and perfectionism. When I set my mind to a project or idea, it has to be done to the best of my ability or not be done at all.

My interest in the state of professional ballet in Venezuela started in 2018, but it wasn’t until the fall of 2019 that I started to research the circumstances surrounding the only remaining classical company, Ballet Teresa Carreño (BTC), and began building connections with the dancers in order to write a story.

In the winter of 2019, I headed to Argentina to join my family for a holiday. I had been tracing former ballet dancers and had found two of them in Buenos Aires along with a former assistant director of the company. I was excited to have my first formal interviews—conversations that were intended to be the first steps in a long series of in-person meetings with members of the BTC.

COVID-19 arrived, and so very many of us had to cancel plans. I was in denial when it came to accepting the possibility of not being able to travel to my home country to report on a topic so close to my heart, as I am myself a professional ballerina who decided to shift to dance writing and criticism.

Zoom became our new classroom, conference room, and even a recording tool. However, the internet connection in Venezuela can be very unstable. At times the meetings would take longer than planned because so much of the conversation was lost. Sometimes noises would come from the call that would make it impossible to hear the person talking. While my apartment is located on a main avenue in Chicago, I managed to take calls from my bedroom and sometimes even in the bathroom to stay away from the noise.

After the second time one of my interviews had to be rescheduled because of poor connection, I upgraded my phone plan to be able to make international calls. Although it did not completely solve the problem, it did help.

When the connection was good, video calls were my best gift. I was able to watch the dancers prepare their shoes and show me the magazine covers they keep from the golden era of ballet in Venezuela. I learned how they are managing to stay in shape from home. I also expanded the number of dancers I originally intended to interview in Venezuela by reaching out to former members of BTC who are currently in Uruguay, Minnesota, Chile, France, and Spain. 

Even though I couldn't go in person to touch the pointe shoes, workshop with subjects, step foot in the theater, smell the resin for the pointe shoes, or hear the sound of the music from the stage, I am proud to be telling the story that gives voice to an issue that has been overlooked for so many years. I thank the people I met virtually and all the anecdotes collected over the phone.

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