Arts & Life

Zoom performances and dancing at home: The Department of Dance’s virtual semester proves tricky for students

Dancers at Long Beach State were once accustomed to spending long hours in the studio preparing for their moment to shine on stage. Due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, however, things have changed.

“You have this weird dissociated feeling like there’s no resolution,” Sam Minnifield, a second-year transfer student and candidate in dance, said. “You have this happy moment on Zoom then you click off and it’s quiet and you realize you’re alone.”

While the Department of Dance has gotten creative to continue working amid a virtual semester, dance majors share how the loss of in-person dancing and live performances have affected them. 

A majority of courses in the department are being conducted via Zoom, with some instructors teaching from home or alone in a dance studio. 

“I am very concerned about performing arts because we need an audience,” Betsy Cooper, department chair, said. “People need to be able to perform.” 

Choreography has been harder to learn through a screen, but not only that, it goes unnoticed due to the loss of shows this year, students have said. Students in the department yearn to share their art with an audience but the coronavirus pandemic has made that difficult to do.

While in her Dance Composition II class, Teresa Declines uses her living room so that she can have the most space. Photo courtesy by Teresa Declines.

“I miss the energy of being around people because we feed off of each other’s energy,” Teresa Declines, a fourth-year dance major, said. “Dance is such a connected activity we have with each other and it’s harder through a screen.”

As students were sent home, it became apparent that they needed access to materials in order to work. They were provided with pieces of marley, a vinyl piece of flooring that makes it easier to spin at home. 

But dancing at home has meant that students have had to utilize the spaces they have, like their bedrooms, living rooms or dining rooms. Declines mentioned that others are going outside or even renting out a studio space to have extra room. 

Besides the physical barriers, it can be hard for students emotionally sharing personal art with people who don’t understand. 

Students like Robert Huerta had to explore new spaces while at home in order to learn and continue performing. Photo courtesy by Robert Huerta

Robert Huerta, a second-year transfer student majoring in dance and dance science, said his peers have expressed that  they feel more exposed now that they are at home with their families. It can create an invisible tension at home due to perceptions of gender norms.  

“Families aren’t accepting of doing dance, especially with men, and the ones at home, they don’t always feel comfortable or safe doing anything,” Huerta said. 

But students are learning new skills that haven’t been focused on much before. Teachers are covering more styles of dance and students are learning how to capture dance on film and play with different camera angles.

Instructors are also using class time to give the students a well-deserved breather. 

Robert Huerta performing in his senior seminar class. Photo courtesy by Robert Huerta

“Sometimes we use the class time to just pour our hearts out and the instructor will postpone the lesson for the day to next time,” Huerta said. 

When it comes to evaluating the students, instructors do not focus too much on the music but more so on the count. Once choreography is learned, each student will submit a video of themselves performing so the teacher can see each student individually.

Without a live audience, the department is figuring out new ways to share the students’ art with the community, like the Fall Dance Festival

The department’s senior seminar class organized a festival that premiered live on Nov. 13 and 20. Cooper said that they will have a link where people can donate, which goes to contribute to a student scholarship fund. 

“We are accepting anything people can give, we don’t specify but we are hoping for $5 from people,” Nao Izawa, a fourth-year dance major from the public relations team for the fall festival, said. “But anything will make a positive impact for the scholarship fund.”

The show consisted of pre-recorded videos of dancers performing to choreographed pieces from this semester. 

“We just want to create a sense of community and our goal is to create this place where people who love to watch or do dance can all join and talk about it together,” Izawa said.

In the 2019-20 academic year, the dance department made $29,460 before they had to cancel the spring production due to the growing restrictions on in-person events, Cooper said in an email. They were on track to make approximately $52,000 for the school year. Since the dance department relies on ticket sales for revenue, they will now be relying on what is made through donations.

With the spring semester approaching, courses are still going to be offered through Zoom with a few exceptions.

Cooper mentioned that a few courses will have an option to come on campus, but the number of people allowed will be limited, acknowledging campus safety protocols and emphasizing that most students will be taught through Zoom.

“Many of these decisions are made by the chancellor, so it’s not like it’s really up to us,” Cooper said.

Minnifield said that students want to create an outside space in the parking lot for the department to use as seen with San Jose State. 

Graduating students have shared that they are alarmed by the state of the job field since the coronavirus pandemic has locked down auditoriums and theatres. Theatres in Long Beach have temporarily closed down and rescheduled their events to 2021. 

According to the #WeMakeEvents, a coalition of trade bodies, businesses, unions, and live events workers, 95% of live events have been cancelled because of the coronavirus.

“We have to take the senior seminar class but we don’t even know what’s going to happen in the future,” Minnifield said. “It’s scary because what are we really going to do after we graduate if we’re not performing?”

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