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 instil 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 2021 at 20h00 and will continue to be available for streaming online for a limited viewing period until Monday, 1st March 2021 at 23h59.
Pointe Shoes, Prayers & A Pandemic was filmed in September 2020 and is produced, written and directed by acclaimed screenwriter/producer Ferdinand W. Gernandt, with Michelle Pieterse as Executive Producer. Director of Photography is Gavin Pincus, edited by Andries de Jager of Post Modern, with Music Arrangements by Marlee and Frans van der Merwe.
How did Pointe Shoes, Prayers & A Pandemic come about?
2020 began with great promise and expectations for Michelle Pieterse and MLSD Studio. Her dance classes were jam-packed with eager students who had painstakingly been training and preparing for months for a much-anticipated World Dance Challenge Finals in Portugal. (April 2020)
Then in an instant, those dreams were shattered as COVID-19 came to erase all of it.
Michelle’s concern rachets up to 11 when she is put in a very distressing position when she has to inform her students and their parents that their much-anticipated trip to Portugal was cancelled only days before departing and that they could quite possibly lose all their money invested in the trip. She couldn’t have predicted that a global pandemic would put the whole world in lockdown when the planning for the tour began.
After the hard lockdown when the school could re-open, Michelle promises a safer way of training, only to discover another threat to her business’ survival – her students leaving for a number of reasons, including new financial and economic limitations of the parents also affected by the pandemic.
Through prayer she realises the only way to instill hope and inspire them to achieve their dreams for 2020 is to give her students a platform to showcase their hard work.
During worshipping she knew exactly what her task was:
Produce a film to tell her testimony of how God guided her through every obstacle she faced in 2020 and that through obeying and trusting in Him, it was possible to produce something good, positive, and inspiring. A story of hope and faith.
Michelle looks back on those early dark days of lockdown in 2020:
“The affect was immediate. We went from 130 students to 55. Parents were scared of the virus. Out of the 55 that remained, not all of them could afford dancing, but I couldn’t turn them away. I had parents phoning me and saying, “my child lives to dance, it’s all she wants to do, but I have no income, my business is in debt, I can’t afford dancing anymore, what can we do?” So, I said “she must stay, you’ll pay again when you can. Let’s at least keep our children motivated and positive during this terrible time.”
I also didn’t want the students to fall behind. I knew I had committed dancers, and wanted them to improve even through the lockdown, we have put in too much hard work to let everything just slip away. They will pay again when they can. I carried on with lessons for all. I must give a humble mention to the small portion of parents who continued to pay class fees, it really carried the studio.
I had to upgrade the WiFi to a fibre line, get a new laptop, purchase online editing programmes to be able to make long videos for classes. I suddenly had more expenses, but less income.”
She continues: “This is when I realised the difference between a career and a true calling. Yes, being a dance teacher is my career, it pays my bills, but it’s so much more. Even with very little income, I felt like I was still there for my students, I still had a purpose, I could see them improve even through zoom lessons. We could talk about the lockdown situation and share opinions. By motivating my students, their continuous drive and passion, kept me strong. They were excited to see me every time they logged on to online classes.
Some days were harder than others, juggling a work/life balance. I found out about the sudden passing of my father-in-law while on a zoom class, with toddlers following my every move. I couldn’t share my utmost shock and heartache with them, I had to wait.
Some days I had to put on a fake smile, and eventually that smile turned into a real one.
I wish to develop every single dancer at my studio into the best version of themselves, as a dancer, artist and person.”
Out of the challenges and prayers, came beautiful moments of growth. After a revelation, Michelle knew she needed to create a documentary to pay testament to the journey travelled.
Thus, Pointe Shoes, Prayers & A Pandemic was born. A story is told of how an artform such as dancing created an escape for South African young dancers.
Says Ferdinand W. Gernandt; “I wanted to produce a project that inspires and facilitate positive change. I wanted to create a supportive environment where the crew and students could be part of a legacy – A message of hope. A motivational beacon of faith. This is what Pointe Shoes, Prayers & A Pandemic is all about…”
International Film Festival Selection
Even prior to release, the film has garnered great attention not only locally but internationally too. The film has already received its first official international festival selection by The Lift-Off Sessions.
The Lift-Off Sessions is a monthly online showcase, dedicated to screening the monthly collection of globally submitted indie shorts and features. With the aim to send each programme out to as wide an audience as possible.
Michelle concludes; “We have a beautiful testimony to share. A legacy these dancers are part of. A story to remind our young dancers and those from the rest of the world, how amazing and strong they really are and that no matter the circumstances, any dream is always within grasp, if we only believe and know that all things are possible through the One who gives us strength.”
Pointe Shoes, Prayers & A Pandemic releases on Friday 26th February at 20h00 (GMT +2) and is available for free online screening worldwide for a limited period until Monday 1st March at 23h59 (GMT +2)
In order to view the film, pre-register online at https://andscene.live/ via “On Demand”
The film is free to view, but there is an option included for the viewer to show their support, should they wish to, of MLSD Studio and future projects (which includes a full-length feature film showcasing their students).
All support would be welcomed (although not essential to view the film) by the school to help finance the upcoming project and ensure all their students are able to dance again through the support of the MLSD Dancers Fund for current students who cannot afford class fees due to the financial impact of Covid-19 Pandemic.
Pointe Shoes, Prayers & A Pandemic is predominantly in Afrikaans with English subtitles.
To view the trailer, click here.
Pointe Shoes, Prayers & A Pandemic was made with the assistance of the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa.
Information and images courtesy of The Colab Network.