AFF Review: ‘Dancing is an Old Friend’ tells a COVID-19 era story of connection

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AFF Review: ‘Dancing is an Old Friend’ tells a COVID-19 era story of connection
Leah Barsky and Jenny Tortorello Walker in "Dancing is an Old Friend." (Courtesy Photo)
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By Missy Schrott | [email protected]

“Dancing is an Old Friend,” a short film by director Marta Renzi, is the COVID-19 era piece of art we didn’t know we needed.

The 12-minute short follows a pair of friends, Jenny Tortorello Walker and Leah Barsky, portraying themselves, as they connect from a distance, both with each other and their love for dance.

While the piece was filmed during the early days of the pandemic when most people were home-bound – Walker and Barsky filmed all of their own clips and sent them to Renzi in a truly zero-budget project – the film doesn’t harp on the stress and anxiety of COVID-19. In fact, there is no mention of COVID-19 at all.

Without explicitly talking about it all, the pandemic comes through in snippets of Zoom calls and virtual happy hours. Barsky, a professional dancer, talks about how she was supposed to be touring and performing on world stages this year. Walker, who has left the professional dance sphere for a more standard desk job, expresses gratitude that she’s employed.

The film is composed of a series of self-produced video clips of the friends dancing in their respective homes, meshed with video chats and audio snippets of them conversing about their friendship that dates back to middle school and reflecting on old clips of them dancing together.

“We can go months without talking, but we can sort of jump back right where we left off,” Barsky tells Walker in one clip.

Choreographed by Walker and Barsky, the film features several dance sequences as each dancer performs on her porch, in her kitchen or in front of a mirror, moving in and out of the frame. Renzi cleverly presents the dances in constantly shifting split screens – a tribute to Zoom calls and other virtual means of communication.

Other relatable quirks of the pandemic crop up throughout the film, whether it’s Walker reconnecting with dance in her newly found free time, or Barsky making an offhand comment as she puts on mascara in a mirror, “Honestly, I don’t know why I bother putting on makeup. I have nowhere to go.”

If one had gone into a viewing of “Dancing is an Old Friend” expecting to watch a depiction of pandemic-induced quarantine, they’d likely expect something sad or nerve-wracking. Instead, “Dancing is an Old Friend” is a comforting escape that shows the power of connection – both with people and passions.

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