Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Coronavirus Remote Education and Dancing 

Day 102  Tuesday June 30

I know I haven’t written in this blog in quite awhile. The last time we were only at day 47 of being home working remotely and dealing with the isolation and unknown of COVID-19. Work became overwhelming and then George Floyd happened.

As if we weren’t dealing with a lot already, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, caught on video, was yet again another disturbing example of the social, economic, and racial inequity at the way in which justice is handed out in this country. It ignited not just country wide but worldwide protests and has forced us as a country to take a serious look at how we police our own citizens and specifically our African American citizens.

It is distressing, disturbing, and exciting all at the same time. Not since the 60’s have I seen such an out pouring of directed and focused anger that has the possibility of becoming an effective force for change and for the betterment of us as a society.

On a personal note, in the middle of all of this, a very dear friend lost her husband to his fight with cancer. He was a retired Police Officer and one of the First Responders at 9/11. He died on May 25 at age 56, just a few days before George Floyd. Larry was a great guy and I am sure would have been appalled at seeing the videotape of George Floyd being choked to death.

Dealing with all of this at the same time was truly overwhelming. Living in Downtown Manhattan I was witness to demonstrations everyday, helicopters flying overhead at all hours. Lafayette street is a direct thoroughfare from City Hall to Union Square,  both places of many demonstrations, not to mention the Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Brooklyn Bridges which all converge on my neighborhood. To say the least, it has been disheartening to figure out what to do next. Despite the fact that I continued to teach, as best I could online to my 525 students, I basically fell into a deep depression. Everyday was a struggle to stay focused, to make sense of what was going on around me, to take care of both myself and my spouse as we continue to navigate what puts us at risk during the pandemic.

Just before all of this happened I had made a short video of “life while sheltering in” and while I had no idea where we would be today I end the video on a note of hope, the ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I hesitated to share it because in the light of what occurred immediately after I finished it , it seemed premature and a little na├»ve. Just as I was beginning to think we were coming close to seeing the other side of this pandemic, we were thrown into a whole other series of events that set me back in my hopeful aspirations.

That said, I do feel hopeful. I am encouraged that New York and New Jersey seem to be doing the right  thing when it comes to opening up businesses in our states. I am encouraged that  the voices of protestors are being heard in a way that they have not been for sometime, dare I say since the 60’s. And I am encouraged that many people are waking up to the fact that we need to practice our right to vote and rid ourselves of one of the worst Administrations during my lifetime. There is a sea change coming and I see a tidal wave that will rid us of every trace of them and in the words of Taylor Swift “gone was every trace of you, that’s when I was finally clean.”

Here is a link to the video I created over a month ago. I still think it is somewhat simplistic but I do see a light at the end of this tunnel. Enjoy the documentation of the "Many Faces of Sheltering In"

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Coronavirus Remote Education and Dancing 

Day Thirty Five & Forty Seven April 25 – May 7

Thursday, May 7th

It has been quite a while since I have posted anything here.
MY intention was to post something every day but that has been almost impossible to do unless I do what I am doing right now: Up at 4am and still working. It’s is getting crazier than ever.

ON that note I am devoting this blog entry to Thank A Dance Teacher Day
#ThankADanceTeacherDay @NDEOdance

Thank a Dance Teacher Day
Hmm.. Where to begin. There are so many to thank so I am just going to start listing.
My very first dance teachers who started me on this journey were my College Dance Teachers Patricia Nave and Linda Roberts. Without that initial push and their continued support, I would not be where I am today. Thank You!

However that was just the beginning. What happened after I finished college was just as thrilling and exciting. I discovered a dancing family that consisted of dance teachers from all parts of the dance world. They all had an impact on me. Here is a list as best as I can put it together. Nancy Meehan, Mary Spalding, Erick Hawkins, Cathy Ward, Laura Pettibone, Cynthia Reynolds, Cindy Green, Zvi Gotheiner, Murray Louis, Lynn Simonson, Katiti King, Te Perez, Diane McCarthy, and JoDe Romano (Flamenco). Then there are my dancing partners, who taught me as much about dancing and teaching as any teacher did. Lets see… Lauren Naslund, Joan Cansdale, Charmaine Warren, Andi Wirz, Osamu Uehara, Loretta DiBianca-Fois, Joan Stamm, Jean Morgan, and Jane Kornbluh. My past students, some of whom have become dance teachers themselves. The lessons they taught and continue to teach me about myself as a dancer and dance teacher are invaluable. A partial list: Sarah Wong, Rachel Lane, Nadia Tykulsker, Jessica Lewis, Teresa Schmitt, Stephanie Caputo. And finally my fellow dance teachers in the  NYC Department Of Education, who teach me something new every day: Kerrianne Cody, Shirlene Blake, Valerie Ramsey, Debra Sabesan, Penny Hpinsdorf, Rebecca Cyr and my compadres at NDEO Men In Dance: Yoav Kaddar, Christopher Rutt, and Barry Blumenfeld.

There are others for sure and there will be more to come because it is really about community, not just that one teacher. Yes there was one teacher who inspired me but without the others that initial support, that faith in me, the recognition of something that I had that was still to be developed, would never have developed. It is really about community, about family and that’s the rub, because my very first dance teachers in college were not really my first dance teachers. My first dance teachers were my family members. 

My mom, who taught me some social dances so I could dance with her at weddings  My grandmother who taught me some traditional Italian folk dances, at weddings. My cousin Lisa, who was my childhood dancing partner as we made up entertainments to put on for the family at big family events. But even they were not my very first dance teachers. My Dad was my very first dance teacher, when I was still a toddler and he would say to me “cheek to cheek’ and I would stick out my cheek and he would pick me up and put his cheek next to mine and dance me around the room. I must have loved it because every picture of me with him doing that I am totally thrilled. That’s what my “first” dance teachers in college saw. That toddler thrilled to be dancing in his father’s arms in a room full of family.

Which brings me to my initial point that it is about community. Without that community of dancers and dance teachers I would not be where I am today. So thank you, thank you to all those dance teachers intentional and accidental, for teaching me about the importance of family and community because I (we) need that now more than ever. 

Peace Out
The Dancing Jedi

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Coronavirus Remote Education and Dancing 

Day Thirty Three & Thirty Four April 23 & 24 Thursday & Friday

Friday, April 24, 2020

After one month of sheltering in, the emotional toll has finally caught up with me. Up to this point, I have been so busy adapting to going online, learning new platforms, new ways of communicating, navigating problems and pitfalls, researching materials, zooming with colleagues, texting with friends and colleagues, sharing common stories, dealing with food shopping, and the lists goes on and on.

But now it has seemed to hit a plateau. I have gotten into a groove of how to communicate to my students, keep them on track and grade them as best I can in this remote environment. I have a plan for shopping so that it is not a daily activity but once every few days. I am able to get onto my roof on nice days to work out and to make new videos for my students both adults and kids. I teach a virtual class every Saturday through the health club where I work on the weekends. I am one of the lucky ones. I still have a job and while I have lost some income from some of my side jobs, I am still viably employed. Even though I am working twice as hard and three times as long than if I was actually going into work. The other day I worked until 4am in the morning. I just couldn’t stop and that was when I realized that I am actually very depressed.

Later that day, while I was exercising on the roof and creating another video for my youngest students, I just started to cry. I realized I was lonely. I truly missed them. I felt a real lack and emptiness in my heart. It was so quiet on the roof, midday, no sound of traffic (except for the occasional siren), two or three other people on their roofs working out but far enough away that I couldn’t hear them. I could see a few people in their apartments sitting at their computers as I was videotaping the “Animal Alphabet” to Pachelbel’s Canon for my Kindergarteners to practice at home with their parents. There was a chill in the air that seemed too cold for late April and there was an emptiness in my soul that matched that clear, chilly, and quiet moment and I just started to cry.

This took me totally by surprise because I have been feeling all along that I am handling this situation really well. I am doing my job. I am becoming an expert in remote virtual education. Funny expressions remote and virtual because that is how I feel remote, removed, and virtual, not really real but virtually real, kinda real, but not really real. Like I said, they are funny expressions. This of course is antithetical to my lived experience, my profession as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher. What we practice with our Pre-K and Kindergarteners everyday. How we limit their time online, as only one of the many things they experience throughout the day, and now the only time they see me is online. How real am I to them?

I miss the 5 year old who needs comforting because she misses her mom, I miss the 4th grader who is giving me a hard time yet can’t wait to get into my classroom and move. I miss early morning dance company rehearsals because most of them are still half asleep and will do anything I ask. I miss my Pre-K students who treat me like a rock star when I walk into their classroom and I miss the troubled 5th Grader who is on the edge and disengaged and whom I am convinced I can reach if I can just figure out the right approach. I miss seeing my colleagues every morning as they pass by my room and sing along with the music I have playing. These are the connections that make my job worth getting up at 5:00 in the morning and going to work every day. Getting up 7:00 am and checking in on my computer for another day of asynchronous remote education makes me feel, well, out of sync and remote. So it is no wonder that it eventually caught up to me and I just sat down on my roof, on a clear chilly day and started crying. Like the  student who cries because they miss their mom, I cried because I miss my students.

Peace Out!
The Dancing Jedi

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Coronavirus, Remote Education, and Dancing 

Day Twenty Three thru ThirtyTwo April 13-22 Monday - Wednesday

Wednesday April 22 2020 (Earth Day)

WOW! I can’t believe it has been 10 days since I last posted. My original plan was to post every day, kinda like a journal, so that my experience would be chronicled and not forgotten.

To tell you the truth, I haven’t felt much like writing anything down as I feel like I am living in a nightmare. As a dancer, and a physical learner, being chained to my computer for 8 – 12 hours a day is the absolute worst. No matter how much Zooming, Canvas Conferencing, Google Meetups, Face Time, Live Facebook classes, Webinars, Microsft Teams, and creating videos (which is one of the things I look forward to because I get to actually move) it is just not the same as being there in person.

I am used to being with my students from 6-10 hours a day. During that time I am constantly in motion and after that time I go to my own class or to the gym. This sitting at the computer and trying to figure out how I am going to get other people to move is truly absurd and nightmarish. That said, I am still doing what I can to make this on line learning experience the very best for my students from Pre-K to Senior Citizens. So at least I can make some sense of the nightmare.

Of course I am in more than one nightmare. There is the nightmare of going out and having to shop for groceries and deal with the public. What do I wear, am I far enough away from others, if there and any others around, do I really want to take a bus, a train, oh I’ll just walk the 40 +blocks to see my doctor. I need the exercise. There’s Senior shopping at 7 in the morning, after which I always pass by the crowded food line at the shelter around the corner from Whole Foods. And then there is the sound of sirens, that suddenly break the very eerie silence only to replace it with the eerier sound of a siren whizzing by and then fading into the background and then silence again. This from the city that never sleeps.

The one highlight of the day comes at 7pm when, whoever is still in the neighborhood, open their windows and applaud for our essential workers (who are in a nightmare all of their own) for three minutes usually accompanied with a song about heroes, which I try to provide every night.

And finally, the political nightmare, of a federal government that is playing catchup because it suffers from any real leadership under one of the most incompetent President’s we have had in my lifetime.

I am grateful that our state Governors have more sense than the President and seem to be trying to guide us away from the abyss, because somedays, it feels like we are right on the edge and someone is about to push us over.

Before I sign off, for who knows how long this time, I received this article from someone who was a student at Staten Island Academy just before I taught there. He is a filmmaker now and he recently published this article online.

It is an especially interesting and timely read as we celebrate Earth Day in the year of the 
Coronavirus. Click here to read it: Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting

On that note I am signing off for the night.

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Strong, Stay Home and Keep Dancing
Peace Out!
The Dancing Jedi

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Coronavirus Remote Education and Dancing 

Day Twenty One and Twenty Two April 11 & 12 Saturday & Sunday.

Easter Sunday April 12, 2020

First I want to wish all a Happy Easter and Good Passover. 

It is a quiet Sunday morning this Easter here in Downtown Manhattan. Just look at the photos from Good Friday and imagine it even quieter, as there is even less traffic.

I have been hearing that so many families are gathering for some time online: a zooming Seder, a early morning breakfast share, or late evening egg dying get together.

We were zooming last night while family members were preparing as much as they could for Easter Sunday. Being from a large Italian family there was much talk about food or perhaps the lack of what this year will bring. No Spinach Pies, not as many cookies, not so much Easter bread, who is making a Ricotta cheesecake. Each family cooking and eating in smaller family units in place at home. No visiting and showing off your Easter best.So it was really a lot of fun to just see each other and have a conversation as if we were going to get together for Easter and discuss what we would be doing Easter morning as we are staying in at home with loved ones.

I slept late and got almost 8 hours of sleep. An unusually long amount of time for me, especially during this crisis, when being a teacher has been extremely stressful. I am usually calm and can handle an incredible amount of stress but I have been close to my breaking point at times and just want to give up.

So I am reminded of what we celebrate this time of year. Of peoples that go through a series of trials and tribulations, of an individual that is  persecuted for wanting a better existence for all. Of suffering that seems almost impossible to bear only to come out on the other end lifted up, making it to the promised land, or being resurrected and uplifted to a better life.

So this Easter I am at home with my spouse, going about business as usual, making more videos for my students, preparing for the week ahead and the journey that life has handed us at this challenging time. Some days it seems like an almost impossible task just to go out and shop for food. Amid all this I remind myself and look to the future. I look for the day we will reach the promised land (going back to work and school) and wait for my resurrection (dancing in class with colleagues and my students).

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Strong, Stay Home and Keep Dancing
Peace Out!
The Dancing Jedi

Friday, April 10, 2020

Coronavirus Remote Education and Dancing 

Day Eighteen thru Twenty April 8-10 Wednesday thru Good Friday.

Good Friday April 10, 2020
Moe's Shop
Just this week Gandolfo Albanese, died due to complications from the Coronavirus. He would have been 95 on April 15. He was affectionately known as “Moe the Butcher” and has pretty much been in the neighborhood since he was born. The Albanese Meats & Poultry was started by his parents in 1923. His mother grew up here and his father was an immigrant from Sicily. "Moe" was a much beloved figure in the neighborhood and will be truly missed.
Old St. Patrick's Cathedral 
So today instead of writing in the blog I took a walk around the neighborhood and took photos of a neighborhood which could easily be in mourning at the loss of one of its beloved citizens but also in mourning at the loss of our street life, which has gone through so many changes since I moved in in 1978 and had already gone through many more a 100 years before. Living in this neighborhood  you feel so much a part of its disappearing past, its hectic present, and modernizing future.
Prince & Mott
Here are the photos I took at rush hour on 
Good Friday April 10, 2020. 
Not too much rushing going on here.

Houston East of Broadway

Sheltering In
Houston and Elisabeth
Elizabeth Street (our block)
Houston and Broadway looking ea
Broadway North of Houston

Houston & the Bowery Whole Foods
The Future is here
The Bowery Mission
Bleecker Street & Broadway
Houston Street facing west
Houston Street facing east
Houston & Bowery Mural



Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Coronavirus Remote Education and Dancing 

Day Thirteen thru Seventeen April 3 – 7 Friday thru Tuesday

WOW! An entire 5 days since my last posting, not that I haven’t wanted to, I just have trouble finding the time. The days are blending together. I am working at all hours because it seems as if my work load has tripled. I catch sleep when I can and eat when I am not working.  That said I have been taking exercise breaks, the one thing that keeps me sane and I do go out at least every other day for food shopping and to take a walk. OH and I also take cleaning breaks. When I get tired of sitting, I clean.

Whole Foods is busy but not crowded. We try to go at 7am, which is for Seniors. It still is an entire process to get out of the apartment equipped with gloves, masks, sanitizers, shopping bags and then getting back in having to wipe everything down and re-sanitize all of our items. I am usually ready for a nap by then which of course I can’t take because I need to go online with my 100+ a day elementary school students.

I guess it would be more manageable if that was my only job but I also have another 30 college students between two colleges where I am an adjunct that I am still meeting with live once a week until mid-May and my fitness club job on Saturdays. Of course every school is on a different  online platform. Sometimes I don’t know if I need to ZOOM or Google Meet or Canvas Conference or go on Facebook. Again, it all becomes a blur and as much as I can appreciate the ability of remote technology to bring us all together it basically SUCKS.

As a dance teacher I find all of this very disconcerting. First of all I am sitting way too much. So I have two computer stations one sitting and one standing. That way I can give myself movement breaks if not work breaks. Second I hardly ever go out and I am getting used to it because it is such a pain in the ass to venture out that I’d just rather stay in. I did get access to our roof but I need to get it unlocked every time I want to use it. Oh did I mention that our apartment is 325 square feet and since we are both here all of the time it is starting to feel CrOwDeD.

My fear is that this may not end any time soon and that we may go back to school in September and  still have to practice social distancing. What will happen to school, will we have less students per class or will we just stay online. Will all physical activities be performed 6 feet away from each other. Will we walk single file down one way hallways or will we just go remote and live virtually for extended periods of time. Dystopia is finally a reality.

And I haven’t even broached the issues of the economic and social divide that is so evident in my neighborhood. Whole Foods on one block with a line of people standing 6 feet apart and waiting to go shopping and around the corner the Bowery Mission with a longer winding line with some people practicing social something, but clearly not distancing, waiting to get their meal for the day. Where do homeless people go to shelter-in but on the streets. That is home for many of them and they are just as much a part of this community as I am. Right now, even moreso, because without all the other masses of people to be distractions they are more visible and there very well may be more of them because of current economic circumstances. There are definitely people that I have not seen in this neighborhood before that have recently become more permanent, on the street residents, for the time being anyway.
It just depresses me that we haven’t figured out how to care for our homeless and how to help lift them out of homelessness. It just seems to me to be about the lack of compassionate, insightful, and decisive leadership. We usually get aggressive leadership without the other qualities.

So what do I do? What Can I do? What brings me joy that will uplift me from what seems so tedious right now. I know that dancing does this for me and that right now that is the hardest thing to do because it takes space, time, and connection. So I put on my music, nice an loud, and dance in my chair while grading assignments or I dance while using my standing up computer. I create dances for small spaces. Cleaning becomes a dance. I create videos for my students, both children and adults, and I invite them to dance. I escape to the rooftop and experience unlimited space with more than adequate social distancing and I dance. And when I sit down at my computer to check my students work I get to see them dance because they are sending me photos and videos of themselves doing the lesson I sent them with their brother or sister or entire family and even though I am not there in the flesh,  I am there because I can see them following along with the video I sent of myself doing our class routine. And then I get that one video of one of my Pre-K students thanking me for sending the fun videos and he looks straight into the camera and says “I love you Mister Jannetti” and everything else fades to black.

Peace Out, The Dancing Jedi