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Milwaukee ballet dancers return in masks

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Ballet is back in Milwaukee. This month the Milwaukee Ballet has seen moving, artistic beauty clash with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. When the Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy re-opened for its 4-week summer intensive, its dancers are now in facemasks.

“Well, you know, it’s another part of your costume." said artistic director, Michael Pink. "You approach it as part of your costume."

"You find yourself getting used to it fast. It’s not as hard as you might think.” said 14-year old dancer Sarah Jacobs.

"You do anything so that you can dance and that’s all you need to do.” 12-year old dancer Edmund Makowski-Scott said.

To get students back in the building dancing all day, the Milwaukee Ballet School did anything and everything to be safe. When it started its summer intensive at the beginning of July, it was one of the first examples of an indoor school being open for classes like this. It could be a blueprint.

“Somebody has to be first." said Pink. "Somebody has to lead the way. We follow protocols which are clearly laid down by the CDC, we have a group of medical faculty who work with us who are watching and monitoring."

Pink says everyone entering the building has their temperatures checked at the door. They also do a self-evaluation before coming which is tracked by the medical team to look for trends.

And they found a surprising use of their new building, The Baumgartner Center for Dance, in the Third Ward which just opened in August.


"It provides us with a very clean and safe space." said Pink. "As we’re navigating this pandemic and how to be able to bring ourselves back in here safely, this building is a gift. All of the ventilation systems are new. Everything is controlled by computers. We can really isolate this building and make full use of the building."

They reduced their summer enrollment by about 100 dancers and only accepted local students, usually the dancers come from all over the U.S. and four different countries.

The students also stay with a certain group and a certain teacher and never mix classrooms.

What these dancers are working towards, at this point, they're not quite sure. There are no performances scheduled. None of the ballet's normal performance spaces are even open yet. They haven't had a performance since the Nutcracker in December.

Dancers like Sarah Jacobs were just a couple of weeks away from their next show when the pandemic hit. 

“We were actually getting ready for one of our productions when we found out that we were going to be home for a few weeks. Quickly that changed to a few months..." she said.

Jacobs spent the next several weeks dancing with a PVC pipe in her living room.

Makowski-Scott used a desk chair while dancing to zoom lessons in his bedroom.

“It was kind of difficult." Makowski-Scott said. "It wasn’t as fun. But you know, you’re dancing. And it’s still better than doing nothing.”

Now, they're back in the studio, back in class, and back doing what they love. Not even the mask can hide their smiles.

"Smiling isn’t just with your mouth. It’s with your eyes." said Makowski-Scott When you dance, you partially have to act and you can still see it."

"We’ve got to be positive and we’ve got to rise above it because that’s what mankind is to do." said Pink. "And nobody does it better than the arts.”

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