Quinn Davis: The Life of a Competitive Dancer During COVID-19

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Quinn lifted her leg into a tight passe while balancing on the tips of her toes. In an effort to maintain balance, she focused her vision on a speck of paint on the wall in front of her. She released her hands from the barre and balanced without any support, only for a rowdy group of neighborhood children to whizz past her living room window on their bikes, effectively disrupting her concentration. She lost balance and fell from the pose. 

As we descend deeper and deeper into this uncertain era of toilet-paper shortages and social-distancing, sophomore Quinn Davis (’22) faces an increasing number of challenges from her new dancing environment. Boisterous neighbors, a living-room-turned-dance-studio… Remote dance has been anything but easy. 

Although restricted to the confines of her own home, Davis has still managed to remain consistent with her demanding dance schedule. Once COVID-19 reached Oklahoma and bans were placed on gatherings of large groups, Quinn’s dance instructor, Syke Massay, quickly transitioned from their in-person practices at the studio to online classes. In addition to a minimum of three hours of Zoom dance calls each day, dancers are sent workouts to complete asynchronously. Further, they are required to practice and record each of their competition pieces for a minimum of half-an-hour, which they submit to their teachers for critiques. 

As a friend of Quinn, I have heard endless stories about the tight-ship that is Kim Massay Dance Productions. When I asked Quinn about how her instructors react if a dancer is late to one of their Zoom meetings, Quinn eyes widened. She burst into laughter as she recalled one of her own misdemeanors: “One day, I thought one of my classes started at 4 [p.m.] when it actually started at 3. Once I joined the call, I kind of freaked out… ‘Why is everyone in a plank?!’” And then, Quinn realized… she had accidentally missed a whole hour of the class. Although it is crucial that the dancers are punctual, Quinn managed to evade punishment: her slip-up took place on her sixteenth birthday, so her teacher let her off the hook with only a warning. 

Before stay-at-home orders and Zoom dance calls, Quinn’s studio was hard at work fine-tuning their performances, prepping and priming for the busiest time of year: competition season. During this crunch time, dancers spent fifteen hours at the studio during the school week, with an additional twelve hours on weekends. 

The dancers at Kim Massay endure those demanding hours and intense work during a season that they have fittingly coined “Dead Month.” During this time, dancers are laser-focused on their competition pieces, working tirelessly to ensure that every little detail is as close to perfection as humanly possible. This past January, dancers at Kim Massay spent a whopping 109 hours at the studio. Prior to spring break, I often found Quinn (whose locker was located directly below my own) packing her backpack to leave Casady while the rest of us began our trek to Calvert Hall for lunch. Quinn had to depart for dance early three times a week in order to arrive at the studio in time for 1 p.m. choreography classes. She expressed that “leaving school early was a really big challenge because [she] constantly had to make up for missed schoolwork.”

These unfavorable hours, however inconvenient, are non-negotiable. Quinn’s studio flies in professional choreographers from New York or Los Angeles to craft their competition pieces, and the girls must comply with whatever schedule is most suitable for the hired experts. Quinn informed me that a typical guest choreographer requires at least eight hours of studio time in order for the girls to fully reap the benefits of their top-tier instruction. 

Quinn admits that oftentimes, she feels frustrated that all those missed days of school and hours spent at practice were all for naught, as her company has lost all opportunities to compete and show off its hard work to COVID-19. Moreover, the recycling of competition performances in following years is strictly prohibited.

Although it pales in comparison to the real experience, a bit of disappointment cleared from Quinn’s dismal tone of voice when she recounted her experience from a virtual convention in which she was able to participate, Break the Floor. Davis noted that the convention lasted from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. for three consecutive days. As I interviewed her, she was actually in the middle of a break from her long convention hours. This virtual event was a particularly special experience, as it was hosted by Jenna and Val from ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. While Quinn has lost in-person exposure to such influential figures in the dance world, she expressed her gratitude for the virtual connection they manage to maintain during the pandemic. “Even though conventions and competitions can’t [take place] this year, I’m still really glad that events [like Break the Floor] get to happen online.”

Additionally, Quinn excitedly informed me that 100,000 people participated in the online dance convention. The classes are currently free, and many dancers who had previously been unable to attend were able to participate in a large-scale convention. “That’s one of the bright sides of coronavirus,” expressed Quinn. While conventions and competitions are not held in the most ideal conditions, “dance is made available to a lot of other kids,” which Quinn thinks is “pretty cool.”

These dancers pour their hearts and souls into their incredibly demanding pursuit. Although they experience copious amounts of nerves and stress, at the end of the day, Quinn wouldn’t trade dance for anything in the world.

If anything, COVID-19 has allowed Quinn to reaffirm her love for the sport. “[The coronavirus] has made me realize just how much I love dance. Practicing in my living room, away from the studio… it makes me feel like I practically quit. It’s a terrible feeling. I’ve realized that I could never, ever give any of it up.” While the future looks unclear amidst the coronavirus pandemic for competitive dancers like Quinn, one thing is certain: once the dust settles and normal life returns, Quinn feels determined to take her renewed appreciation for her craft and work harder than ever before. 

Click here to watch one of Quinn’s favorite performances!