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No shortage of pandemic challenges for Judy Russell

The last couple of years have been filled with challenges for everyone because of pandemic restrictions. Judy Russell talks about what happened in 2021 and what's to come in 2022.
Judy Russell Presents The Nutcracker dec 16/21 30
It was the last chance for cast and crew to work out the kinks earlier this month at Vanier Hall during the final dress rehearsal for Judy Russell's presentation of The Nutcracker./Citizen photo by James Doyle

The last couple of years have been filled with challenges for everyone because of pandemic restrictions and the same goes for the entertainment industry including many organizations in Prince George.

Fresh from success with Judy Russell Presents The Nutcracker that only saw soldout shows, Russell talks about what it’s been like and how she and her family will navigate the uncertain future as coronavirus variants continue to rear their insistent heads.

“We felt very fortunate to be able to get through that tiny window of opportunity and that it was so successful and so special,” Russell said, talking about how the restrictions went from 50 people allowed in an audience to 50 per cent capacity of any venue for The Nutcracker.

“This one is going to go down in history, I think, as being incredibly significant to many, many, many people in this community, not just because it was the 30 year anniversary but that it took place in the middle of a pandemic,” Russell said.

Early in 2021 Judy Russell’s Enchainement Dance Centre held classes virtually, during what Russell called the ‘circuit breaker’ and they shut down for about a month at a time for adults and two weeks for children.

Russell shared her unique insight into what it’s like for young children and youth during this very uncertain time.

“You have to think about it - when you have four year olds in the room, almost half of their lives have been spent with adults other than their parents being expected to wear masks - if you think in terms of that they are pretty comfortable with the whole situation,” Russell said. “The ones that I think have the bigger problem is those who are between the ages of 10 and 20, who are used to pretty much calling the shot themselves and this has been very, very difficult for them, plus they are the most affected by not having events, parties, gatherings - they’re really suffering so it is good we still have them in the studio because I see a great deal of the fraying of their personal well being. This is a completely different story we’re telling right now and that’s how this pandemic has affected our teenagers.”

Russell said she sees a decline in the number of teenage students who have continued with their classes because they don’t see any point because there is no opportunity to perform.

“That is very, very sad,” Russell said.

“There have been a few who have managed to keep their chins up and continue but that’s not the case for most.”

Russell said she sees those between the ages of 12 and 16 who have not reached the pinnacle of their dance education who are very invested but many 16 to 20 year olds are defeated and quitting.

“It’s their time to shine and they don’t see the end in sight that will allow them to do so,” Russell said.

It’s very distressing, she added, because these children have grown up before her eyes and there’s nothing to be done for them.

“And it’s rough,” Russell said. “As far as the studio goes we’re just hanging on because our classes have to be smaller.”

Operating expenses for the studio remain the same, no matter how many people are in the building.

“We are very thankful for the federal government’s financial programming that has helped us stay alive,” Russell said. “I don’t know moving forward how any large events can be planned at this point because who’s to say that after Omicron there won’t be another situation? It’s very hard to do anything but put your head down and try to make every day in the studio a really wonderful one and just honestly live in the present, day by day. We’ll do the best we can, take advantage of situations that come up for everyone that are safe and well thought out. I hope people can find a way to continue to grow and be happy and hopefully learn some excellent lessons through all of this and happy new year!”