POINTE SHOES, PRAYERS & A PANDEMIC
In the midst of a global pandemic, a South African dance teacher has to keep her business afloat, and is forced to reinvent her traditional training methods.
Born from a deep need to instill hope in her students during the bleakest of years in 2020, Pointe Shoes, Prayers & A Pandemic is an inspiring documentary short film which encapsulates the journey of Michelle Pieterse and her dance studio
(Michelle Leibrandt School of Dance) during the turbulent 2020.
The heart-warming and often gut-wrenching film releases to the general public worldwide for free online screening on Friday, 26th February at 20h00 and will continue to be available for streaming online for a limited viewing period until Monday, 1st March at 23h59.
Watch it on www.andscene.live via “On Demand”
I had the pleasure of chatting to Michelle.
Tell me more about the dance school and anything you’d like to mention about yourself?
The dance school is a local ballet school. We do ballet and jazz with ages 2.5 – 18 years. The kids then go and study somewhere and spread their wings. We don’t do adult classes, so after school you have to find something to build your passion and your life. Ive been a dance teacher for almost 8 years. I was a professional dancer and I never thought I would be a teacher. Then I met my husband and seasons changed, and I settled down and started a dance school. I found this new love for students, children and dancers, younger dancers and it’s the best thing ever. I can’t believe I didn’t start it way back when.
What was the inspiration behind doing a movie?
It’s a documentary and I needed to find a platform for my kids to dance and perform. They’ve been working so hard. Even before the lockdown they were at their peak and then the lockdown started and the physical classes went to zoom, but we still grew. The kids continued classes. They were so committed and I realised we need to show the hard work they put in. Theatres were closed so we couldn’t perform like we always did – we used to book Atterbury Theatre out for a week. I didn’t want to record videos and put it on Youtube because a show is glamorous and big and gives you goosebumps all over. I needed something with that effect to motivate the students. The platform was a documentary film. I wanted to show what they felt like and show the world what the kids went through. We were so busy as parents and teachers with everything we had to change and do that we forgot what it was like for them and I wanted a platform to show what they went through.
We did interviews with every single student in our studio and nothing was rehearsed. The producers built our story from interviews that could explain the emotions the best. We wanted raw emotion and realness.
Have you worked with film or documentary previously?
I have done music videos for Afrikaans artists and a few musical theatre shows. I was in Pretville and one of Kurt Darren’s movies and I was also a Vodacom Bulls Babe, so I had a bit of experience in front of the camera. We were interviewed for various TV programmes. But I saw in my head how God wanted my dancers to be on TV. I thought maybe He wanted us to do a music video then every time I started looking for an artist to write a song, to tell our story it didn’t feel right. I realised I must go bigger. Ferdi understood the heart of it and took the story.
Here are some of the videos I’m in
Usually the kids will go on to do theatre work and competitions, but now we have a chance to teach them about film. Camera work, behind the scenes. It expanded their creative space so much and they are now more interested in film work. It’s a whole new world opened up to them. And when they saw themselves on screen, they were so excited.
Every year we do a show and at the end of the show we have a programme that’s printed and all their photos are in it, the story of the show, the DVD and something to remember the year by and last year we didn’t have that and I needed that. Something to give the children what’s going to be in 2020’s file. So we thought let’s make a big project out of it and now they can look back after 5 – 10 years and say that was real.
So much of the dance industry specially for students is about competitions and I love competitions, but a lot of the times parents sometimes more than the children and teachers get so competitive that we get stuck in only competing and we forget what the art is about. And now the dancers realise that they can do so much more with their art. They can inspire friends, tell a story. It’s not just about a gold medal.
What sort of age group are the kids in the documentary?
It starts with the youngest, a little ballerina. She was almost three years old. So she was very small, so from three until 17. I don’t teach my own kids though they also dance. My daughter goes to Tannie Tina’s studio. I want to be her mother first, I don’t want to be her teacher. When I go and see her doing ballet I can feel like you are the most beautiful ballerina in the world to mommy. But when she’s in my studio I can’t tell her she’s the most beautiful ballerina in the world. I want to but can’t, and I made that choice. And there are so many amazing ballet teachers and dance teachers in our country, she can spread her wings. I love sending my kids to open classes at different studios because I believe the more teachers you have and the more experience you get the better you’ll be. From this year I got more teachers into the studio permanently.
It’s good for the children to see this looks like a mountain, but we’ll do it one step at a time.
Would you see yourself doing this again in the future?
We have an amazing 2 year project that we want to do which we will do half of this year and half of next year. I haven’t seen a dance studio in South Africa do it and not sure globally. Please follow our social media to find out more.
Is there anything else you’d like to get across?
The dance industry is so competitive and I just want to say to other dance studio owners and teachers that we are not here to compete with your studio, we are not here to compete with other dancers or teachers. We told the story to share to the world what dance studios and teachers and dancers went through. We are here to build the industry. We are not here to say this is what we did, what did you do? They might associate with how we felt and feel better. I remember parents saying why should I pay for dance fees if my kid is dancing in front of the TV. It felt like a waste of time but it wasn’t, because even though we grew and progressed a little bit slower, there was still progress and we kept the mental health of the dancers strong.