Theater is on pause but Emma Nossal just keeps on dancing

Emma Nossal is a musical theater performer born and raised in San Diego.
(Leah Huebner)

There may not be theater right now, but that hasn’t stopped performer Emma Nossal from staying engaged in the arts, even under quarantine.

Over the last few weeks, Nossal, 25, has been teaching tap and jazz classes from her Rancho Peñasquitos home. She streams beginner lessons on Moonlight Amphitheatre’s social media channels, and teaches various levels, as well as privates through her personal Facebook page and Zoom.

Of course, before theaters were shut down, Nossal was building an impressive resume, appearing as Penny Pingleton in San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Hairspray” and as Regina in Cygnet’s “Rock of Ages.” She was also teaching dance at Vista’s Shadowridge Dance Center and working as an administrative assistant for Moonlight Cultural Foundation.

So as the theater community takes a pause, Nossal — an El Cajon native who graduated from Granite Hills High — shares what it’s like to be a performer during coronavirus, as well as during better days.

Q: Tell us a bit about your training ...
A: Going way back, my training began specifically in competitive dance studios. I began dancing at age 3 at The Dance Machine, where I developed a love for tap dancing and musical theater routines. I trained in tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, and lyrical for many years, eventually switching studios and attending The Element Dance Center in La Mesa. I am so thankful for my dance training because it gave me confidence and the necessary technique that I continue to use to this day.

Q: How did you get started in musical theater?
A: I stopped dancing in studios at age 14 to do cheer and other school-related extra-curriculars, but around that time was when I developed my love for theater. I participated in all things theater throughout middle and high school, and decided that I would go on to major in theater at California State University, Fullerton.

Emma Nossal as Penny Pingleton in San Diego Musical Theatre's "Hairspray."
(Ken Jacques)

Q: What were you doing before quarantine?
A: I was finishing up playing Maggie in “A Chorus Line” at the Welk Resort. We had about two weeks left in our run, which unfortunately was canceled (although I am thankful to have had a nice, long run with a stellar cast). I was also about to jump into rehearsals for “Nunsense,” also at the Welk, which has now been postponed until 2021.

Q. How else has the pandemic affected you as a performer?
A: In a number of ways, some negative and some strangely positive. It has obviously been difficult not being able to perform and interact with my friends and fellow artists, but on the flip side of that, it has spurred new creativity in me and so many others about how to share the arts with people and continue to connect the community.

Q. How so?
A: As much as the uncertainty can be hard to deal with from an anxiety standpoint, I’m trying to focus on the positives. This newfound downtime (which I have not had in a long time) has given me time to reflect on what I want and things I want to improve in my life. I’ve connected with friends more frequently. I’ve gotten really good at creating a daily schedule and sticking to it. I’ve been watering plants and keeping them alive (which I’ve never been able to do). I started practicing ukulele more often. So despite the many negatives and uncertainties that come along with this pandemic, there are always positives. I’m thinking of this as a social reset where we will (hopefully) all emerge with a newfound respect for the things we love and hold dear.

Emma Nossal as Regina in Cygnet's production of "Rock of Ages."
(Ken Jacques)

Q: Another thing you’re doing is teaching class online ... can people access your lessons?
A: I’ve been teaching different styles of dance classes on Facebook Live every week! On the Moonlight Stage Productions page I’m teaching a Jazz Fundamentals class on Tuesdays from 4 to 5 p.m. (through May 19). I start every class with a nice warm-up, teach some basic jazz terminology, and we add on to a fun, easy combo each week. On Fridays, I also teach an intermediate level tap class on my personal Facebook page from 4:30 to 5:30pm. Both videos are public and should able to be accessed by all, even after the live video has ended. I also offer tap private lessons via Zoom for anyone who wants more specific instruction tailored to their needs.

Q: Whats it like to teach virtually?
A: Teaching virtually has been a whole different ballgame. Luckily, I have a mirrored wall in my condo, so I utilize that in the same way that I would in a studio. It is definitely difficult dealing with a confined space, and sometimes awkward when I reflect on the fact that I’m talking to my computer alone instead of in a room full of students. I think the hardest part has been trying to come up with new and innovative exercises every week while not getting feedback from students and not knowing what kind of space they have at home. But, it has been a real joy for me to get to virtually connect with people and hear how getting up and dancing has positively affected their outlook.

Q: How have you personally been taking in the arts during this time?
A: I’ve been taking in the arts in some respect every single day; I truly couldn’t survive without art. Music has really been able to lift my spirits despite the current situation. I have also thoroughly enjoyed watching my friends create art online, whether that is through teaching dance or yoga classes, reading through plays, or staging virtual cabarets. It has really inspired me watching the ways that the San Diego theater community has banded together through various mediums to remind everyone that we are not alone.

Q: Let’s turn to the days before quarantine, what are five key things you kept in your dance bag at all times?
A: Literally every style of dance shoe I own (not sure if that counts as one), a big bottle of water, a nice change of clothes in case I need to sing or read, snacks (sometimes auditions are LONG) and a foam roller.

Q: And what was your pre-show ritutal?
A: It varied from show to show, but usually I drink a cup of hot tea while I do my hair and makeup, do a vocal warm-up, listen to my favorite upbeat music, and if it’s a dance show, I stretch and do a nice warm-up and run through any trouble spots in the choreography. I also often need to do deep breathing exercises right before the show begins to calm my nerves.

Until theaters reopen, Emma Nossal is teaching tap and jazz from her home.
(Leah Huebner)

Q: What are your top three favorite musicals of all time?
A: “Into the Woods,” “Ragtime” (which I will get to be a part of this summer at Moonlight if we are able!), and “Cats.” Don’t judge me, I grew up watching the VHS and loved the dancing.

Q: What’s the first thing you’ll do once quarantine is over?
A: Go hug my family! And maybe go to the zoo.

Q: What advice would you tell the 16-year-old version of yourself?
A: To not be so hard on herself because although she wishes it was, not everything is in her control (I should also tell this to the present-day version of myself). I would also tell her to be confident in her own individual talents and stop comparing herself to other people, because even though she isn’t a high belter or a ballerina, her personality and the unique gifts that she holds are what will help her stand out.