Dancing Through a Pandemic, Rachel Maynard Brings Light to Columbus

By Jessica DeShetler, writer at Stella Solutions

Rachel Maynard is artistic director of Oyo Dance Company, a non-profit dance organization committed to providing motivation and education in the arts of dance. On the cusp of the winter solstice, with snow blanketing the ground, we chatted on the phone about Oyo’s online performance, One Light, performed Dec. 22-23 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 24 at 1 p.m., and Rachel’s mission to keep the arts alive in the pandemic.

Jessica: What’s your mission as an artist?
Rachel: I created Oyo to allow dancers who are not the “perfect” age or body type to dance professionally. Dancers who are above our mid-30s need to adjust to dancing in an older body. Our artistry is richer. At the same time, we continue to push our younger dancers to learn new techniques and stretch themselves artistically. The pandemic challenged our mission to adjust to dancing in different circumstances. How much can we bend and continue to keep our standards so high? We’re able to bring more compassion to people in places, which is so important.

Jessica: What’s the best thing about the Columbus arts scene?
Rachel: For me, it’s the resiliency and ability to adapt to the times that we’re in. For our current show, One Light, we’ve converted the studio into a stage. We weren’t prepared, but we had to do whatever was necessary to keep the arts alive.

Jessica: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted artists this year?
Rachel: Many times in this process, we’ve had to adapt. An artist had COVID; another was quarantined due to exposure. The board asked me, “Are you sure you want to do this?” It was important to present something enlightening for the holiday season because it’s been a dreary year.

Jessica: Can you give us a “behind the scenes” look at adapting your stage show for the screen?
Rachel: There was something magical about transforming our studio to the stage. It was a wonderful collaborative process to work with our videographer, Eric Van Wagner, and production manager, Curtis Brown, our artists and our entire crew. We created a black box theater and learned new lighting techniques for the screen. It’s inspired us to reach out to the community more in our virtual format.

Jessica: What have been some of the unexpected innovations or gifts of 2020?
Rachel: We’re now connected via a virtual platform, and most of our teaching is virtual. I originally had my studio in Pennsylvania and brought it here 10 years ago. For the first time in 10 years, I can teach my former students and connect to them in ways I never would have before. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see these people I haven’t seen in so long.

Jessica: What’s your favorite holiday?
Rachel: Christmas Eve. My mother always had an open house on Christmas Eve for our friends. She was a caterer, and she would make tons of food. She welcomed our friends into our home all day and evening long. She passed away four years ago from lung cancer. I’m working to continue her tradition here in Columbus.

Jessica: What’s your favorite Christmas cookie?
Rachel: My grandmother’s sugar cookies. They are more like sugar cake. Not flat, just doughy, yummy, sweetness. My mother was at Kobacker House for hospice. The way they take care of their patients and caretakers is amazing. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I make my grandmother’s sugar cookies with my daughters, Panthea (age 9) and Anastasia (age 5). We bring them to the patients and staff to thank them and encourage them. It’s my favorite Christmas cookie, and it’s my favorite part of the holiday.

Oyo’s multicultural holiday celebration, One Light, brings together traditions from all over the world from different faiths and paths to come together in the winter to celebrate light, peace and joy. View it online on Dec. 22-23 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 24 at 1 p.m.

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