COVID-19 restrictions force dancers to make adjustments

November 5, 2020 — by Oliver Ye

Most now practice outside or on Zoom.

On a recent afternoon, music blared in the background as junior Patricia Huang leaned over to touch her toes and stretch. She and the rest of the school’s 18-member dance team were not in the dance room where they would be in a normal year, but rather in the quad.

The team now practices twice a week in the quad or upperfield because of COVID-19 restrictions. They also practice for just two hours; this is shorter than their usual three-hour indoor practices.

For Huang, who has been dancing for nine years and currently dances in jazz, lyrical, contemporary, hip hop, and pom styles, these restrictions have created major challenges. For one, practicing outside means no mirrors. 

“We always used to use the mirror to check if our timing and formations were off,” Huang said. “It’s also hard to tell how different each person looks when they dance, so a mirror helped with correcting arm placement or how a move is performed to make the dances look more uniform.”

A mirror is critical to most dancers, Huang said, because it helps keep dances clean. Seeing their teammates’ reflections while dancing simultaneously can help dancers fine-tune timing and movements.

Additionally, practices that take place on the upper field or in the quad present terrain challenges. Because the ground isn’t as smooth as the gym or the studio, the team hasn’t been able to work on technique or groundwork as much as before, making practicing routines much harder to perfect.

However, these adjustments have also led to growth, both for dancers individually and as a team. For example, according to Huang, practicing without a mirror has forced dancers to focus on their peripheral vision during routines. While they used to be able to look straight ahead and see where everyone else was, they now have to be more aware of each other’s movements.

“Sometimes when we forgot the choreography, we would also use the mirror to check what other people are doing, so dancing without a mirror forces us to remember the choreography better,” she said. “We usually don’t get a mirror for competition anyways, so I feel like it will better prepare us for competition season if we have one.”

Another dancer adjusting to circumstances is Shannon Ma, who has been dancing for the past 12 years but is not on the school team.

Ma, who has practiced ballet, contemporary, ethnic, and jazz dance in the past, said she has had to rearrange her living room to create a new dance space for Zoom sessions. 

“No matter what it’s still not the same when dance is virtual because you don’t get to feel that energy that’s there when all your teammates and teachers are physically there,” Ma said. “Dance is an art form and lacking the connecting with others aspect is difficult to adjust to.”

For her, dancing at home often feels more subdued and less energetic than in the studio since it has been more difficult to bring out passion and feel hyped when dancing just in her living room.

However, Ma said she recognizes that virtual dancing has provided certain benefits to her dancing skills. While she hasn’t been able to practice large routines with her dancing group, she believes that the time spent practicing alone has helped her improve her technique and clean up small details in solo routines.

For other dancers, COVID-19 has provided notably more benefits than challenges. For sophomore Anushka Sankaran, who has been participating in classical Indian dance for the past nine years, her dance practices have moved online, which has created a liberating virtual environment. 

“Before COVID-19, I'd go to class twice a week for an hour. Now it's over Zoom and it's three times a week,” Sankaran said. “At one point during the summer, we'd have class every day. I practice more now that I’m at home since I have more free time.”

Under normal circumstances, Sankaran would have to drive to the studio in order to attend her classes, but now she can practice more frequently due to the accessibility of her virtual lessons.

Even though all the dancers have all had to change their routines to match the reality of COVID, they are looking forward to returning to their studios.

“When we’re free to be back on stage and in the studio like normal without masks, I think we will cherish [the opportunity] even more and dance with more passion than we did before,” Ma said.


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