For ABT's Virginia Lensi, Helping Kids with Cancer Has Given Her Perspective During the Pandemic

April 23, 2020

Like so many others, American Ballet Theatre corps member Virginia Lensi didn’t know how bad the coronavirus’s impact on the U.S would be. But soon, her family in Milan, Italy, was sounding the alarm. “My mom was telling me this is just the beginning, it’s going to get so much worse,” says Lensi.

Sure enough, New York City became one of the pandemic’s hardest hit epicenters. ABT was forced to cancel its season at the Metropolitan Opera House, leaving many of the dancers with the question: What now? Though she’s hoping to make it home to Italy in May to be with family, Lensi has taken the pandemic and self-isolation in stride, thanks to her company, school courses and her volunteer work.

She recently spoke with Pointe about how she’s keeping busy, staying in shape and remaining positive during these difficult times.

When did you decide to try to go back home to Italy?

Most of the dancers waited until the season was cancelled, of course. But for a while I couldn’t go home even if I wanted to because things were so bad in Italy. They finally opened flights for May 1. I have one booked, but so often flights are cancelled and sometimes they get too full, so there’s always uncertainty.

Has it been hard being away from family, especially when they’re in such a hard-hit area?

I came to ABT five years ago, so I’m used to being far away from my family. It never felt like a big sacrifice, but this situation is different. My family is home in Milan and thankfully everybody is safe from the virus. And I’ve actually been able to talk to them even more than I usually do. Even cousins, sides of the family I don’t see as much during the year—I end up seeing them almost every day on big FaceTime calls together. Because it’s a situation that covers the whole world, we share the same feelings and experiences.

How have you been staying in shape at home?

I had to find a new routine and a new normal. We were lucky that right away our ballet master, Carlos Lopez, starting offering classes on Zoom the first week we were off. After a few weeks of trying to figure out what works, now I start the day with my Pilates exercises and then I do 30 minutes on a stationary bike I bought and had delivered. And then I take what I can of class in the living room.

How else has the company been helping dancers during this time?

ABT has started many initiatives to move its activities online. Everybody from ballet masters, dancers and staff have been in this together, so it’s been so much easier to go through. Now I’m taking the ABT National Training Curriculum course that Franco De Vita and Raymond Lukens created via Zoom.

Are you branching into other activities?

I also started taking some free online school courses: leadership and organizational behavior related to social science and human rights. That’s always been what I’ve been interested in, even before this whole pandemic. And I’ve been continuing to volunteer for an organization called Candlelighters NYC, which puts on activities for kids with childhood cancer.

What would you do with Candlelighters before versus after the pandemic?

I started by volunteering for its in-person events, but then I started creating events of my own. My friends and I would create a little show for them and then teach them the steps. ABT would help by providing the studios and a gift for the kids. Now during the pandemic I create little videos that talk about ballet, with a few stories and steps they can learn.

These kids are my inspiration every day. You see them and you know that they and their families are facing this hard challenge, something that nobody would want to go through. But they come to these events and they’re so joyous. One child I met in the program actually donated all his toys to other kids with cancer. It’s amazing. They just give me so much joy.

Has your work with these children helped you personally deal with the pandemic?

Seeing how positive and joyous they can be in such a hard situation made me realize that I can also be joyous and positive. I don’t have to face what that they’re facing. And if they can be happy and going through this, I have no excuse not to be happy. What we have to do is stay home, which is definitely extremely hard. But we also have so many ways to keep connecting with each other. When I see them via video they’re so happy—always dancing and always smiling. It’s incredible.