Super Bowl LV halftime show performed ‘COVID-19 Style’

With COVID-19 spreading across the country, artists and performers in the show had to approach new ideas and angles that viewers had never seen before. Restrictions, time, safety and talent are what shaped the unique 2021 halftime show.

**A safe compromise...** *By wearing masks and staying socially distant in the stands, dancer Reggie Oliver (middle right) along with other artists prepare to perform. With COVID-19 spreading rapidly, performers in this years Super Bowl halftime show have to stay safe while putting on a good show.* 

*Photo reprinted with permission from Reggie Oliver*

**A safe compromise…** *By wearing masks and staying socially distant in the stands, dancer Reggie Oliver (middle right) along with other artists prepare to perform. With COVID-19 spreading rapidly, performers in this year’s Super Bowl halftime show have to stay safe while putting on a good show.* *Photo reprinted with permission from Reggie Oliver*

Past Super Bowl halftime show performers had the creative freedom to explore how they display their time on screen. However, this year’s Super Bowl LV performance by the Weeknd was heavily restricted by COVID-19.
Prior halftime shows allowed performers around three months to train and learn the choreography for their acts.
Super Bowl LV halftime show dancer Reggie Oliver was impressed with all the dancers for their commitment to the show’s safety procedures and precautions with COVID-19.
“Not only did we have to get tested everyday but there were several other screenings we had to go through before we could even enter the rehearsal sight,” Oliver said.
In addition to the time constraints, daily COVID-19 tests were another obstacle given there were performers gathering in one place from around the country. Anybody who took part in the show, even as a “prop guy”, had to be tested daily and deemed healthy by a nurse.
A rule inflicted and enforced by the United States government to social distance has completely changed the way things work. According to Oliver, the dancers in this year’s halftime show had to abide by strict distancing rules.
“As far as COVID-19 goes, they hired 95 professional dancers, they hooked us up with rental cars and hotel rooms, and they were very strict,” Oliver said. “I was the only person that could drive the rental car. I had a pod mate and he had to sit in the back seat.”
All performers in the show this year, with an exception of The Weeknd, wore full face masks that displayed artistry, while safely following the COVID-19 guidelines. Oliver said that The Weeknd used the masks to develop a story and seamlessly blended the performance with the health crises the world has experienced.
Student dancer Edie Crandall believes something similar.
“The masks must have made it a little bit hard for the dancers to really express a story or show emotions but where they lacked emotion, they made up for in their body language and movements, and they stayed safe while doing it,” Crandall said.
With COVID-19 numbers increasing and people going on lockdown, the lack of dancers this year was noticeable.
In past years there have been up to 130 dancers and performers because they did not have to wear masks and social distance. Oliver said that not only were there fewer dancers this year, but they also had to sing, dance, and play instruments, and in Oliver’s case, learn an instrument.
“For the violin part, I don’t really play the violin but for the sake of the show I learned,” Oliver said. “They flew me out one day early just to teach me how to play violin.”
Oliver was disappointed by the fact that he was chosen to dance in a Super Bowl during the one year it was restricted by a global pandemic. Performing artists this year only saw the ending of the huge production process that the halftime show experiences every year.
“In past years, performers were able to see the show build itself from the ground up and get to know each other, in contrast to us where we were told ‘this is what it is and this is what it’s gonna be, and we need y’all to just pull up for it,’” Oliver said.
According to Oliver, the performance was very good for the time they were given to practice, train, and rehearse. The performers were not allowed in the stadium during rehearsal because they were preparing the field for the game.
“There was a lot of criticism about the performance but when you really understand entertainment and art you really come to learn that time will make things amazing,” Oliver said. “The fact that we were able to speed up the process and put together an amazing show in one week is awesome to me.”
Choreographer Marty Kudelka, who choreographed Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl performance in 2018, and Bryan Gaw, who choreographed Katy Perry’s performance in 2015, were given up to half a year to prepare for the show.
Souderton Area High School Marching Band Director Richard Freda said it is not unheard of for choreographers or agents to reach out to professional dancers and say, “We need you on set today and you have one hour to learn this dance,” but that is not a common occurrence.
“A professional dancer can be given a range of three weeks to three months to rehearse a dance and become familiar with it, but the fact that they put that all together in a week is truly incredible,” Freda said.