COVID On The Dancefloor

Image by Chessie Dowdeswell

Let’s be honest: Online lectures never stood a chance of matching up to the real thing. That screen is a barrier between you, a couple blank screens, people eating in their pyjamas and – of course – your lecturer. Have you ever thought about how other students doing other degrees are finding this new normal? How about the lecturers? Subjects where you would be mostly sat down anyway are much easier to replicate than ones where you need to be up and about. So how are dancers adapting to online teaching?

Siân Hopkins trained at the Legat School of Dance, worked professionally in the industry and has been teaching around the world since 2012. Now she is one of the many university lecturers having to alter her teaching methods to fit the online atmosphere.

Problems and Solutions

The first problem Hopkins identified was delivering the standard teaching possible in person and tailoring it to individuals. Due to the huge reduction in contact between student and teacher, Hopkins says it’s harder to build a rapport with students and understand their goals. She says the answer to this is patience.
“Patience is a must. Patience with yourself and patience with the people you will be working alongside.”

Along with this, being unable to physically be together means that dancers cannot experience the energy that comes with dancing as a group. It is more difficult to provide corrections when a teacher cannot physically adjust positions, see the full dancer if they travel away from the camera’s view and pick up on whether or not the students are grasping the content. It’s very easy for students to mentally disconnect from lectures.
“Dancing together online can help you feel like you are in a community with gallery view, but having multiple boxes on your screen also makes it harder to follow the movement if you are unsure! So you can easily get lost and not participate.”

Classwork has also been adapted to fit the small spaces students have. There is an emphasis on safety and awareness when students could easily break things or hurt themselves. Along with the lack of room, it is also more difficult to pick up moves from a 2D figure in a screen. Even using terms like ‘left’ and ‘right’ can cause confusion.
“The thumbs up is now something I dread! I want voices and motion… but on zoom a thumbs up makes sense.”

Extra Hours

Translating dance teaching from in person to online takes more time than you would expect. Some of the extra tasks include:

  • Creating class content for 5-10 week blocks
  • Creating, editing and uploading videos demonstrating and talking through the material
  • Teaching class online and in person at the same time (absolute madness for splitting your concentration)
  • Reviewing every assessment method and making alterations to how assessments are presented
  • Moving all performances and presentations online for safety
  • Performance without a visible audience

“For practical technique classes, exercises worked on could be interchangeable and spontaneously thrown out and reimagined whilst getting inspired by the students in the room with you. Now, for ease of learning online, we have created class content to be learned and disseminated via videos as well as online / studio class.”

The Students

Sophie Ellis Bextor must be happy because this year has prompted more and more kitchen discos. Unfortunately, kitchens were designed for cooking and not safely performing contemporary dance. Lots of students have been struggling to find the space to dance. Swinging your legs and arms around could end badly if you lose concentration on your surroundings.

However, Hopkins said the hardest thing to find (as a student and a lecturer) is motivation. This is because of the demoralisation dancers feel when they are unable to perform a move in the limited space, pick up the material through the screen or overcome distractions at home.
“I think many dancers often finish a class feeling worse than when they started.”

“For the final year students I think it’s especially hard, because they are feeling the pressure to make the most of what can be offered in these times as this is what they have left of their education.”

“As an industry, dance is a vibrant, communal, physical achievement and enjoyment to share with others. As a world, we are now far from seeing this as normal anytime soon.”

Overall, this pandemic may have affected dancers more than any other type of student. We should all give our lecturers a pat on the back for the extra work they’ve put in to teach us this year. We’re all dreaming of the day when we can attend all classes in person again and leave these online days behind us. Until then, keep dancing!

By Chessie Dowdeswell

The Crow’s Nest is a Greenwich Students’ Union Student Media channel. The views expressed in this website do not necessarily reflect those of GSU, its trustees, employees, officers or the University of Greenwich.

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