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Dance in the Time of Covid-19: Funmilayo Chesney

A Look at How Artists Continue to Inspire...

Dance in the Time of Covid-19: Funmilayo Chesney

2020 has been a year of unprecedented changes. For the performing arts world, the cancellation of live performances has meant a significant loss of income for artists and venue owners around the globe.

For many people within the arts and outside of them, financial strain has been augmented by illness or the threat of it, physical isolation from loved ones, bigotry and systemic injustices that continue to ravage our world, and countless other challenges of living.

...but...

Maybe promise waits in adversity. I definitely wouldn't be turning my scripts into webcomics if the Off-Broadway theater that commissioned them wasn't dark. Yes, several shows were cancelled but this gave me time to create virtual workshops, donations, and support groups that may not have otherwise existed.

My goal in creating this series of interviews was to explore the unique ways in which artists continue to create and inspire. Whether it's the music that helps us get through the day, that movie that makes us smile a little more, or a virtual dance workshop that banishes the ennui even temporarily, art has proven to be critical in times of hardship. Perhaps the hard times are when art is needed the most.

Meet Funmilayo Chesney, a pioneer of Congolese dance and holistic health, from Brazil and one of the many artists reminding us perseverance in hard times is possible.

BWW: Tell us a bit about you and your artistry.

FC: I'm most known as the artistic director of the Fusha Dance Company and the founder of the Cook to Live workshop series, but I'm also a drummer, a teacher, a singer in the process of releasing my first album, and an actress.

My company and I have performed at the Alvin Ailey Dance Center, Harlem Stage, the Brooklyn Museum, the Apollo, the United Nations, the NYC African Burial Grounds, the Metropolitan Museum, Carnegie Hall, BAM, the African Street Festival, Symphony Space, and other prestigious venues. We've toured to South America, Europe, the Caribbean, Africa spreading intercultural appreciation for our artform.

Congolese dance has influenced music and dance cultures across the diaspora: Afrobeat, Samba, Salsa, Hip Hop, Reggae, Calypso, and Soca to name a few. It is medicine for the body, passed down from our ancestors.

BWW: What plans did you have for your artistry in 2020? What has changed?

FC: I had plans to take my company to Jamaica and Europe for our 7th year. Both tours as well as collaborations in Colombia were cancelled because of COVID-19. This year did give me the opportunity to explore presenting classes and productions virtually though. Now that I'm less busy, I've had time to work on projects I'd put on the backburner.

BWW: How are you staying creative (if you are)? How are you coping?

FC: I am staying creative by studying new topics that compliment my craft such as editing. I joined a gym and have been working out to keep my endorphins up. I teach three virtual classes a week for adults and Fusha Dance Company has done a few virtual assemblies for schools and organizations.

BWW: Are you working otherwise? How are you supporting yourself?

FC: My income has suffered considerably but I am working part-time and being subsidized by unemployment for now. I produced Sunny Sundays in Fort Greene Park as a way for people to stay active during the shutdown. Cook to Live has become even more important during the pandemic because it promotes best practices to build our immune systems.

BWW: Did any good things happen in 2020? What positives or potential are you seeing thanks to this year?

FC: This was a tough year. My mom passed after being neglected in a nursing home and died of complications from a bed sore. On the positive side, I learned a lot about virtual platforms I was not aware of before, and utilized these as a new way to share my artform. Now I'm able to reach students around the world.

BWW: What has 2020 taught you?

FC: I learned that at any moment we have to be ready to reinvent ourselves. Sometimes we just have to dive into the deep end and have faith that we will make it through alright.

BWW: What advice do you have for artists who are struggling right now?

FC: Collaborating with other artists is a very fulfilling and effective way to increase our incomes.

BWW: How are you feeling about and approaching the future?

FC: I'm hopeful about the future because, once things calm down, I'll still have all the skills I learned during the pandemic and I'll be able to put them into action. However, I'm also apprehensive about the short-term and long-term side effects of a new vaccine and what that will mean for our health years from now.

BWW: Anything else?

FC: My website is www.FushaDance.com.



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