Ballet West dancers talk about surviving coronavirus and having fun in quarantine

(Photo courtesy of Ballet West) Lucas Horns, left, and Josh Shutkind, corps artists with Utah's Ballet West, during their quarantine for COVID-19, which began when they were tested on March 15, 2020.

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Lucas Horns says his boyfriend, Josh Shutkind, was suffering “the worst fever he’s ever had.” Shutkind agrees: “The headache that I felt was unlike anything else. It was, like, crippling.”

That was Monday, March 16 — a night when the couple, both corps artists in Utah’s Ballet West troupe, say they got maybe an hour’s sleep. Because they were feeling so sick — Horns also had a fever, but not as severe — they missed a voicemail message from the hospital where they had been treated on Sunday, March 15.

When they heard the message on the morning of Tuesday, March 17, Horns and Shutkind learned they had COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“It just kind of shows how variable this virus affects people, even among very similar people like us,” Horns said in a Skype interview with The Salt Lake Tribune this week, as they were beginning their second week of quarantine.

Horns, 25, and Shutkind, 23, were finishing a three-week break from Ballet West, visiting Shutkind’s family in New York.

“We were watching the city shut down around us,” Horns said. “Broadway shut down — we were supposed to go to a show. All the restaurants were closing.”

They flew back to Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 14. They both felt ill, Horns said, “but it was unclear if it was just stepping-off-a-plane sick or sick-sick.”

On Sunday, they still felt sick, so they went in for a test that evening.

Their contact with anyone in Utah that weekend was limited, Horns said. They had not been in contact with their fellow dancers, or with students at the Ballet West Academy.

Once they got tested, they followed doctors’ orders and went into self-quarantine.

Shutkind said he started to feel a low-grade fever, and both had a dry cough. “Once we were in quarantine and we were both at home, both of our fevers kind of spiked,” Shutkind said. “And that put us out for, like, two days.”

Those two days peaked with the sleepless Monday night, and the news received on St. Patrick’s Day that they tested positive for the coronavirus.

On March 17, there were only 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah. As of March 26, there were more than 400 cases confirmed by the Utah Department of Health.

A week later, Horns and Shutkind — who met at Ballet West and have been dating for two years — are feeling much better, and are enjoying spending the time together. “We thought we were close before,” Shutkind said, laughing.

Shutkind continued: “Now that we’re feeling better, it’s been a fun time for us. Catching up on all of our TV shows, and making yummy meals, and FaceTiming with family.”

(Luke Isley | Courtesy of Ballet West) Lucas Horns, one of the corps artists at Ballet West, performing in "The Nutcracker."

They’re also trying to stay in shape, to be ready when they can go back to dancing.

“Lucas has been helping me keep in shape by being my pull-up coach,” Shutkind said. “I’m very lucky to be dating somebody who keeps us on a good regimen. … We both miss dancing a lot, and we miss our jobs at Ballet West.”

The couple has kept in touch with their fellow dancers through FaceTime and many offers of food. “We have not been hungry,” Horns said. “The camaraderie of the company is one of my favorite parts of working there.”

(Beau Pearson | Courtesy of Ballet West) Josh Shutkind, one of the corps artists at Ballet West, performing in "The Nutcracker."

“It’s fun how everybody wants to just keep in touch,” Shutkind said, noting that the couple has also enjoyed watching the other dancers post videos of their dance classes online.

Horns said they feel grateful at making it through their brush with coronavirus, but that the outbreak and the closing down of public gatherings has been hard on the performing art world.

“We work in an industry that relies on people coming together,” Horns said. “It’s kind of sad we’re not able to bring that to the world. People are posting videos, but it’s not the same as putting on a live performance.”

“The arts always have been resilient,” Shutkind said. “We always have been like the phoenix and risen out of the ashes. … The arts aren’t going anywhere, and we are so looking forward to being back on stage.”

Shutkind sees their COVID-19 experience as “a good reality check.”

“Especially in youth, you can start to feel invincible,” Shutkind said. “As dancers, we feel so [close to our] physical peak so often. I think this is just a good reminder for all of us that we need to take insanely good care of ourselves.”