Dance technique courses adjust structure in congruence with safety guidelines

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The various dance technique courses offered are a staple for all of the students studying dance in any capacity. With Muhlenberg’s current structure, the technique courses are being offered in a variety of ways to accommodate the students on campus and the students at home, as the courses have to be able to be taken in person and virtually. The Muhlenberg Weekly had the opportunity to interview several students taking technique courses this semester, as well as Karen Dearborn, the co-director of dance recruitment and a professor of ballet, composition, and dance history, about what their experience is like and how faculty have made the adjustments to the new setting.

Lexi Franquiz ’22 is living at home this semester, so her experience in Jazztap II with Shelley Oliver is completely virtual. She explained that everything is over Zoom in synchronous sessions. The students turn their microphones off to avoid latency issues, but Oliver leaves hers on so the students know what everything should sound like. 

Franquiz also added that Oliver uses two cameras on Zoom, one on her face so she can see what the students are doing, and one on her feet so the students can learn the steps and sequences they need to. 

Franquiz said, “Honestly, tap is going very very well. It’s working very well on Zoom, I think mostly because you don’t need a lot of space to be able to do it. I have a 4×4 piece of plywood that I put in my living room that I tap on.”

That isn’t to say that Zoom lessons don’t occasionally pose problems. The students in her class sometimes get put in breakout rooms with a partner, and they are asked to create routines based on the jazz song form they are learning about in class.

Franquiz explained that this isn’t always easy because of latency issues. She said, “You kind of just have to focus more on the visual than what you’re hearing. Being able to count in your head and by yourself is a very important factor because of the latency, but it doesn’t really hinder us that much at all.” 

Despite the completely virtual method for the course, Franquiz has no qualms about how everything is working: “I’ve taken tap on campus in the past, and I don’t feel like I’m not getting the experience.” She said, “I still feel like I’m getting what I want to be getting from a tap class.”

Contrarily, Nicole Lamprinos ’24 is on campus and in a studio for her dance course, Dance Practices I. The course is a daily class, with the Monday through Thursday sessions alternating between ballet and modern. The Friday session is a Dance Lab, which involves a discussion on a variety of topics, followed by creative work with improvisation or experimentation. 

The students are all in person, and Lamprinos’ modern instructor is also in person with them, but her ballet instructor teaches over Zoom. Being in the studio space in person means that Lamprinos and her classmates have to follow the several Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines. These include staying in spaced out areas at the barres, administering temperature and symptom checks before entering the studio, wearing a mask the entire time while in the studio, and refraining from bringing water bottles into the studio space so that they don’t have to take their masks off at all in the studio. Despite being in the studio space and even having one of her professors, the course does still have its difficulties. 

“Even if they [the professor] are in person, they can’t make any hands-on corrections, which, before Covid, is a very typical way that we would get corrections……  So that’s a big difference,” stated Lamprinos. “We kind of have to figure it out for ourselves. They’ll tell us if we’re doing something wrong, but then we have to figure out how to move our body to correct it, instead of having them come to help us and teach us.” 

Kyra Hickey ‘21 is currently in Modern IV/V with Meredith Stapleton, a Muhlenberg alumnus. Hickey is living on campus, but the course is completely virtual. The course only meets synchronously on Mondays and Wednesdays for what Hickey refers to as “movement sessions,” but Stapleton has set up an asynchronous schedule for the students’ homework on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. In the synchronous sessions, the students are working a lot with improvisation and release. For Hickey, the semester has been one of adaptation, especially since she has to dance in her South suite’s living room.

“I think it has, if anything, encouraged me to think about the ways that our usual living spaces invite movement into them constantly.” In the realm of adaptation and how that is affecting the course both physically and mentally, Hickey added. “One thing that has come up in our modern class a lot […] is this idea of our modified dance spaces being enough, and the idea that moving our bodies at all in community just has to be enough right now. […] I think there’s this rhetoric around dance training that when we rest we are regressing, and I feel like the past few months and continuing right now, the reframing of rest as this fruitful thing…But at the same time, I know I personally have internalized that rhetoric so much that it’s hard to get into that reframing stage.”

Dearborn said, “Like all ‘Berg faculty we participated in the summer online teaching seminar offered by the Ccollege. I participated in the one focused on the performing arts (music, theatre and dance), and we learned a lot from each other as we discussed/shared our successes from teaching online in the spring and shared ideas for new pedagogies for the fall. I was truly inspired by all that everyone was experimenting with to make successful learning communities online. I know everyone was also using many additional resources beyond the college where faculty in specific disciplines came together online and in social media to share approaches.”

“Dancing behind a mask is not easy, but access to a good floor and a large studio makes it worth it,” explained Dearborn. “Dancing without a mask presents different challenges, no masks, but often floors that are not great for dance and spaces not large enough to move a lot, but we can see each other well and enjoy the pets, family and/or roommates wandering through the “dance” space as moments of our shared humanity. Everyone’s love of dance and our togetherness still shines brightly even through the screen or through a mask.”

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