Dancing out of the lockdown

Islamabad, Pakistan

It was March 18, 2020 when I realized I had been at home for two full days, avoiding any social interaction. My movement inside the house involved going from my bed to my sofa and then back. It took me a day to mess up my sleep cycle, and while I was working from home, taking calls and video conferencing, I wasn’t following my usual weekday routine. I was exhausted mentally, but physically my body didn’t feel quite the same. 

Naturally, screen time was skyrocketing and I was making up for the time not spent meeting friends by catching up on the lives of everyone I was following on Instagram. Most people were struggling with adjusting to the idea of social distancing and were using their social media accounts to journal their rants. That’s when I realized – why not dance! So I put up a story saying that I would be releasing basic, shot at home, dance videos everyday so that people could watch, enjoy, follow and stay active. It seemed like the perfect thing to do. I had cancelled my regular dance classes some months back because I was finding it a little difficult juggling between work and the studio. But now with no office to go to early in the morning every day, I had all the time to make choreographies, practise them, shoot them and share on my Instagram. 

Solo Dance 1

So I set out to release my first quarantine dance cover to a popular Bollywood song. The response was great, I had over a thousand views the same day and people really appreciated the effort. I asked for song suggestions for videos I would release in the coming days. Later that evening my housemate, who had left for her hometown earlier, called me and told me she had heard rumours of a two week city lockdown and that I should leave Lahore for Islamabad (my hometown) immediately. I packed the essentials – four t-shirts, a couple of shorts, a pair of jeans, some toiletries and left for what was going to turn out to be an emotional roller coaster ride!

I reached home to find out that no was there because my aunt had been rushed to hospital in an emergency. This was not the warmest welcome but I sat in my car and waiting for my mom and sister to return and used that time to choreograph my release for the next day. They returned at length and informed me that the situation wasn’t very good and that the hospital run was also very difficult. Local hospitals were not taking emergency cases due to the COVID 19 crisis and not admitting older patients because of their compromised immune systems. My aunt was critical so she was sent to the ICU. 

The next day, I went to see her briefly and told her about how I had decided to dance. She asked me to show her the dance and I performed for her live next to her bed. She found it very entertaining. After meeting her I came home and shot another video. These daily video releases not only gave me something to look forward to, but also put pressure on me because I knew people were waiting for a new dance the next day.

So I set a routine for myself. I would wake up at 9am to start my day with office work, get done by 1pm and follow a little YouTube workout a friend had sent me so I could stay in and stay fit. After the workout was dance time.. I’d spend the next two hours preparing a new dance, practising it, shooting it and posting it on my social media pages. Then I’d wait for responses and feel the adrenaline rush, enough to go out for a walk or a hike or a run, till it was time for the sun to set. I’d come home to shower, visit my aunt and spend time with family. Later in the night I’d video call my friends, both regular and those I hadn’t been in touch with. By the end of it, I’d have spent a complete day, exhausting myself mentally and physically enough to happily fall asleep. I was happy for the productive day I had spent, grateful to have my family around me, committed to my work deadlines, excited about my videos and the appreciation I was getting. Life seemed to work out.

A week later my aunt died. With everything in lockdown, this was a messy situation. No shops open for arrangements, no clergy available for funeral rights, no one in government offices for formalities, no people to attend the funeral and on top of everything, a very emotional family almost failing to function out of disbelief. The entire routine that I had prescribed for myself failed to remain practical. While I grieved, it was difficult to detach myself from the depressing quagmire my family was drowning in. 

Things seemed to be gradually normalizing after a week and I found myself building the same routine that had been working out for me really well. But it didn’t feel quite the same. My motivation was dying, my choreographies were becoming monotonous, some people had even started hating on my videos. Someone commented on my dancing saying she could do it better.

While I was upset at first over the fact that she failed to understand the concept behind my dance videos, which was not to impress but to get people to watch and dance too – I was struck with the idea to turn the tables. The next day I released a story telling people how I had released fifteen videos and now it was their turn to dance. So I challenged them to learn one out of my fifteen choreographies, make a video of themselves dancing and send it to me. I told them I’d announce a winner who would get to be featured in my next dance cover release. 

The response was wild. I had several people send me their videos and I loved how I had gotten everyone to dance. I then released my first socially distant dance cover where I sent a video of myself dancing to a friend, who learnt it and sent me a video of her dancing. I stitched our videos together and it turned out to be great. I had launched an upgraded version of my quarantine dance series. Of course, this was a longer process so the frequency of my releases reduced to once or sometimes twice a week. 

Quarantine Series Dance 1

And then came the second hit to a perfectly motivating routine. I lost my twelve year old cat to an unexpected organ failure. It was deja vu – the same set of issues, the same emotional family and the same disoriented approach to the next few days. Losing a pet is severely underrated, pet lovers would understand. Over the next few days I gathered my motivation and then came across a video shot a few days ago where I was dancing with my cat. It melted my heart. It was like the universe reminding to get back on my feet, quite literally.

Today is day 40. While I have lost two very essential beings in my life and depression seems to linger inside the house with us in our lockdown and the general vibe in the city (the country and the world) has been sad and scary, I also have 15 solo videos and five socially distant duets on my social media, a newly launched YouTube channel and an online TEDx talk to boast about. At this point I must credit the power that lies in dance and how it can take one out of the darkest times in life. It connects people, it motivates, it inspires, at times pressurizes, exhausts and seldom injures… but it keeps one going! So guys, DANCE!

For inspiration or dance videos:
Youtube: www.youtube.com/faizaanahab
Instagram: @fad.faizaan / @faizaanahab
Facebook: www.facebook.com/fad.faizaan

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