This past year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts have been having a harder time doing what they usually do. Specifically, dance at the university — both classes and RSOs — has faced difficulties ranging from low participation, limited possible activities and an inability to put on live performances.
Through the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Health Sciences, the university provides a dance minor to anyone who is interested in the art of dance, with no audition required. As the university’s website explains, “The minor provides students with the opportunity to study dance as a performing art while also pursuing complementary coursework in areas such as dance science, pedagogical methods and an exploration of dance in world cultures.”
Kimberly Schroeder, a full-time faculty member for the dance minor, states that in a non-pandemic semester, the minor provides dance technique classes in many different styles such as ballet, jazz and modern, as well as different dance electives that can be studio-based or lecture-based classes. Additionally, the faculty in the minor works to create performance opportunities for all students involved in dance classes. However, the pandemic dramatically changed the way the minor ran this past year.
“Dance is such a specialized topic and really is best taught in person in the room,” Schroeder says, “not just because you want people to be able to see the whole body and give direction and move together at the same time to music, but also in a dance studio … there’s a proper dance floor to really execute jumps and turns properly … over Zoom, you might not be able to do the same job in your bedroom as you would be able to do in the dance studio.”
While safety and logistical concerns existed, the absence of ability to perform was another challenge that was difficult to adjust to. The Last Chance to Dance performance that usually happens at the end of the semester was not able to happen in its typical in-person capacity. However a virtual performance with pre-filmed dance videos was put on in place. Additionally, the annual dance concert performed by students was fully cancelled, with no virtual compensation. Even with virtual performances, the ability for students to fully showcase their work and the energy of performing for a live audience was something that last year’s students completely missed out on.
Dance RSOs have also faced many challenges during these past semesters. Phoebe McCullough, senior exercise science major and president of the Swing Dance Club at the university, reported that both executing activities and encouraging involvement have been difficult tasks this past year.
“So we had to go from teaching a lot of partner work to a lot of solo jazz and solo moves,” McCullough says. “And we tried to throw in some concepts every now and again that would help with the transition back to partner dancing, but it’s still hard because a wall or a chair isn’t the same as another person.”
Troubles with involvement also occurred, as getting people to sign onto a Zoom dance class that they may have never tried before can be daunting. However, McCullough disclosed that the club is already getting requests for membership in the fall. As COVID-19 restrictions are loosening, more students interested in dance want to get back into the swing of things.
Moving into next fall semester, dance classes will still be fully online due to the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in a dance environment where social distancing can be challenging. However, Schroeder and the rest of the dance faculty are looking forward to getting back in the studio, and even going as far as installing smart boards in the dance studio the students and faculty in the minor use so students who may choose to remain online can still have a studio experience.
“I think dance is a powerful art form,” Schroeder says, “and definitely in this time as we’re returning to what is normal, what can we do that we would have been missing out on for the past, you know, year and a half? I think dance can play an important role in finding joy and healing and having that opportunity to continue a journey through the arts.”