Updated April 16, 2020, at 9:06 a.m. to include information on fundraising.
Dance students and instructors are working to make the most of their time away from the studio as classes and presentations are restructured following Elon University’s move to online classes due to concerns around the coronavirus.
For senior dance students, the end of the spring semester was when their final performance was scheduled. Originally set for April 17, the blacbox rendition concert entitled “All Things Must Pass” investigated different understandings of time through movement. According to dance department chair Lauren Kearns, students in the senior seminar class have been working on their thesis concert since late August. The eight seniors choreographed the collaborative showcase under the company name Perception Dance. Senior Shelby Durham said throughout the year seniors taught master classes throughout the community, fundraised over $6,000 and had original music composed for the original show.
“The spring semester focuses on realizing the dance thesis project, producing a final professional level production book, executing a completed PR campaign and timeline and completion of a fundraising project,” Durham said.
The concert will now take place online, with seniors self-choreographing, producing and recording solos. The online senior seminar showcase will be available on the Elon dance program’s YouTube channel from Friday, May 8 at 5 p.m. EST to Sunday, May 10 at 5 p.m. EST, according to a press release.
Assistant professor of Dance Renay Aumiller said she and her co-teacher, assistant professor of dance Casey Avaunt, are both “so impressed” with the students’ “resiliency and creative problem solving with their projects.”
“Each senior is re-imagining their once group choreography projects into self-performed solos at various locations in and around their homes,” Aumiller said. “This new version of their senior seminar illustrates that each senior BFA dance major will be equipped to take on the new challenges our changing world will throw at them and keep dance alive in the process.”
The seniors are currently in the rehearsal process, which includes weekly online showings with professors and faculty for feedback as dancers rework their pieces, according to Avaunt. Originally choreographed for five dancers, Durham’s piece “The Arrival” focused on “how your emotional state can distort your perception of time.”
“Through the idea of quarantine, I restructured the idea of composing “The Arrival” to showcase the stages of grief throughout this turbulent, uncertain, and uncharted territory of quarantine during a global pandemic and how quarantine itself distorts your reality of time,” Durham said.
Senior Meg Boericke has been on crew for every senior seminar showcase since she first came to Elon. She said she was looking forward to going through the rituals and experiencing what she has seen so many times before, for herself.
“Even though senior [seminar] is considered a smaller show in the grand scheme of things, it provides so much more fulfillment than anything else because this is what you've been working for four years,” Boericke said.
For dance majors like Hannah Giessler, who is at her home in Virginia, they face many challenges unique to dance classes, such as lack of space.
“I can make do without a bar or mirror or something like that, that's not as big of a deal, but space is definitely an issue,” Giessler said. “And also floors, we have a big basement in my house, but it's carpeted.”
Carpeted spaces limit movement, Giessler said, in addition to impacting technique. For Giessler, dancing outside has been a good option, as well as taking live virtual classes that require less movement and therefore less space. One of Giessler’s professors suggested the students take a virtual class that was live streamed from New York. In the class Giessler learned the ‘Gaga technique’ which is a form of dance that focuses on the dancer’s body and requires less space.
“There were 600 people on the zoom call, and it was people from all over the world,” Giessler said. “It was just really cool to see that many people dancing together, like doing the same thing, but all over the world.”
Boericke, like many dance majors, found herself in online dance classes and redesigning not only her senior year and summer, but her career.
The dance and strategic communications double major planned to go to New York to find classes to keep up with her dance studies, to look into companies and to find a job in communications. Now, she is unsure if and when any of her plans will happen.
“Looking back on my Elon career, I spend more time in the [Performing Arts Center] than I do in my house or any other place on campus,” Boericke said. “Having that no longer available is more than just not being able to dance in a comfortable space, but it's not able to train with the community that you’re so accustomed to, and the people that push you and the people that set the bar a little higher.”
For Aumiller, the loss of community and ability to give feedback to her classes is the biggest challenge with online instruction. Aumiller is teaching four dance classes this semester, in addition to working with three students via independent study and two students receiving credit for advanced research in choreography studies. After receiving feedback from her students, Aumiller said she split her classes between live meet-ups and pre-recorded class videos.
“While filming my classes, I find teaching to a screen incredibly different, as there is no dialogue or energetic give and take that typically happens in a studio setting,” Aumiller said. “Logistically, teaching dance classes while everyone is in a different location is incredibly challenging. I have to take in consideration their spatial limitations, floor type, and even ceiling height.”
Students in Kearns’ special topics in pilates equipment class have had an added challenge of adapting their coursework with the absence of both a studio and equipment. The course, which took place in the new Needham Pilates Studio, focused on how to use a variety of equipment and relate pilates exercises to cross training. For online instruction, Kearns said she has converted the class to a purely mat style class.
“With the incorporation of smaller pieces of equipment, such as therabands, Pilates circles, physio balls, et cetera, I have been able to recreate some theoretical aspects of the original class,” Kearns said.
While some dance students face many challenges with online instruction, freshman Eileena Boyce said she has found many strengths in her time away from the studio.
“I'm also understanding how my own body works. I can't look at anyone else to see what they're doing, so I really get to focus on what I'm doing and who I am, even as an artist,” Boyce said. “Dance takes a lot of self motivation and awareness, so trying to understand that I'm the only one that's going to make me do what I have to do has really helped.”
Aumiller said despite the challenges she and her students have faced so far, this time has served as a reminder of how important the arts are for community health and wellness.
“We can only thrive with other people. In fact, that’s the whole point of our field. We bring people together to share, express, feel, to think together,” Aumiller said. “And without that, we are unfulfilled. The positive of this situation is the reminder of why dance, and all performing arts, need to exist.”
Molly Jenks contributed to the reporting of this story.