Actors and entertainers may not be the first people you think of when you consider people hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. But when theaters and production studios shuttered overnight, nearly all the jobs in the always-uncertain industry vanished. Even now, with vaccines widely available in the US, the industry is struggling to rebound.
Professional dancer Dustin Ripkens, who specializes in jazz-funk, hip-hop, Bollywood dance, and partnering, is one of many who had to scramble to survive the lockdown.
“Suddenly, there were no auditions on the horizon,” he said. “None.”
Prepandemic, it wasn’t unusual for him to audition sometimes four to five times a week.
Ripkens grew up in Germany and moved to LA in 2013, where he rapidly found consistent work, touring the US, Canada, and South Africa with the dance show Mystic India and with artists such as Lilly Singh, The Black Eyed Peas, and Take That, among others. Locally, he worked at Disneyland California Adventure, Universal Studios, and the LA Follies.
That all changed when the pandemic hit. “The last fourteen months have been unprecedented,” he said. Artists canceled tours. Live performances were rescheduled or canceled. “My colleagues and I had to figure out how to maneuver through,” he says. “Like everyone else, we had no idea how long it would last.”
Many friends moved back in with families or headed back to school, in search of a career path. Others looked for alternative ways to keep dancing.
“I’m passionate about teaching,” said Ripkens. “So while the physical spaces were forced to close, I pivoted to keep my education space open virtually.”
Ripkens’ Zoom class became his window on the world—and a haven for fellow dancers. “During a time when people felt trapped in their homes and disconnected, this became a sacred shared space where people could cultivate healing, expression, and a sense of supportive connection,” he said.
The class allowed Ripkens to stay afloat financially while simultaneously creating a community for a diversity of students, all starved for movement and connection. “Dance has the power to connect and empower people, to promote wellness for the body, mind, and soul,” he said.
Along the way, the classes gave Ripkens a renewed sense of purpose.
“It was a way for me to uplift, encourage and empower individuals through a dark and challenging time,” he said.
Instead of hustling for his place in the spotlight, Dustin drew satisfaction from helping others find greater vitality and wellness through the art forms he grew up with.
The class attracted the attention of the online workout juggernaut Beachbody, where Dustin was hired to run a test group of “Let’s Get Up,” a brand new dance-based conditioning program created by the super trainer Shaun T.
High praise from students followed: ”He highlights who you are as a person and creates a community where everyone is focused on being the best version of themselves,” said Jumana Rose, a student in the program.
“It absolutely was a dream to work with Shaun T,” says Ripkens, whose thirteenth Beachbody program “Let’s Get Up”, came out May 3rd, 2021 “I have always admired his commitment to transforming lives through music and dance.”
As restrictions lift, the dance industry is gradually coming back to life—and job offers for dancers, choreographers, and directors are trickling back. Though Dustin sees himself returning to the stage before long, the pandemic helped him realize that the opportunity to inspire others and build a community is not just a stop-gap measure but a reward in itself.
“I plan on keeping my virtual dance space open post-pandemic to reach people from all over the world and expand our beautiful community while also pursuing new dance adventures in-person locally and globally,” said Dustin. “I am very excited about what the second half of 2021 has to offer.”