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Postcards From The Pandemic: A Swing Dancer Copes With Social Distancing

Valerie Salstrom at her home in Lakewood. [Robyn White]
photo of valerie salstrom

Valerie Salstrom is a professional swing dancer and teacher in Cleveland. She realized in mid-March the coronavirus was going to completely shut down her livelihood, as swing dancing and social distancing are almost entirely incompatible.

Her classes and workshops around Cleveland are over for now. The competitions she attends every year in the United States and around the world are also canceled.

Salstrom wonders where to find a living until the coronavirus, and the social distancing that prevents its spread, is no longer part of daily life.

A Physical Language

It’s a community. Swing dancing is a really unique art form that is really dependent on not just me doing it as an artist, but in sharing that with other people. And getting other people to speak this physical language.

And what you see when you're watching two swing dancers isn't all there is. There's a lot that's going on between the two of them that's felt, and the way that I teach partnered swing dancing is I teach them how to act and react or how to do a call and response from what they're feeling.

It's Been Rough

It was really hard to hear Dr. Fauci say, you know, we’re not going to be shaking hands for a while. We’re not going to be hugging people for a while. And I was like, oh man, that’s what I do for a living. Oh my God. And it’s just, that physical connection is so important to communicating while you’re dancing.

It's been rough. I definitely feed off the energy of other people.

Getting up the courage to start my own online classes, I tried it in the beginning of the shutdown. And it was too depressing to try to film to an empty room, and it wasn't good for my mental or emotional state. So I kind of put that on hold until I could sort of gather myself a little bit better.

Getting Back to Normal

I’m just hoping that a vaccination can come out sooner rather than later, so that we can all feel safe, because I don’t want people to be afraid of people they don’t know. I want them to look forward to meeting people they don't know and sharing space with people who are unfamiliar to them.

I think there's going to have to be some new rules temporarily for how we go about having these social events, how we handle group classes, where maybe rather than rotating you end up, you sign up with a partner, like, that's the only option, which hurts my heart.

If it saves lives, it's what you need to do.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.