Dance from home: performance-based classes in a distance-learning worldMarch 31, 20203 min read
The sudden switch to online-only courses has left many educators aching to provide their students with just as full a learning experience as they would have in the classroom. Uncertainties about technology and internet access are now ubiquitous in the education sphere, but those teaching classes with a performance element have something else to consider.
"I think the performance classes have a particular challenge in all this," says Bess Rowen, PhD, who made changes to her Creativity course. "The syllabus called for them to bring in poems that inspired them. The original assignment was supposed to be to break up into small groups and make your poems into a brief performance piece with movement and sound." Obviously, with all of Dr. Rowen's students practicing social distancing, they were unable to meet up. Instead, they created virtual performance pieces that they acted out for their classmates over Zoom.
Dr. Rowen reported, "The results were awesome! Some had repeated themes, others used images, musical cues, or gestures. Some included found images, others made images themselves, and still others used live action. I was really pleased with the results!"
Barby Hobyak-Roche, MA, is a professor of dance, and her concerns also involved the lack of ability to be in a physical space together. She's "missing [her students'] energy and movement and personalities and expression. Virtual connection is a gift- yet dance and theater are experiential. A living, present art form and language. I miss them and I can see in their eyes (on the screen and their video submissions) that they are working to adjust, all of us are.
According to Hobyak-Roche the key to that adjustment is, ironically for a dancer, "flexibility." She's had to adjust both her syllabus, and the dance moves themselves. "I have completely shifted choreography. I am not over-loading them with too much at once. I began with just having them establish new patterns...setting up the Youtube account, re-learning and submitting already learned movement. [It's hard] for them without the rest of us there to feel each others energy- or for me to respond to their physical needs in real time, in the same room.
Additionally for Professor Hobyak-Roche, "This transition for my courses goes beyond just becoming online at the moment- many of my students are in bedrooms, in kitchens, in garages, basements, outside...some of them in very tight quarters. They are dealing with BOTH a computer screen instead of human contact in a class environment AND tight physical space. I teach at a dance studio as well, and am taking cues as to what works (or doesn't work) online from my experienced dancers there (and from watching my fellow dancers and educators in classes because we are all figuring this out together). My students who have not trained before need things pulled way back- both because they are still, essentially, mostly beginners, but also have no space to move in. I need to be aware of the floor they are on, that they may not be able to extend fully…lots of shifts!"
The most important take-away? "If they need things simplified or adjusted right now, or me to be more lenient about expectations...that is a given in my eyes. "