• Allegra Battle

Going Virtual: HDAT and Technology

Last year, young dancers, teaching artists, and community members filled Hill Dance Academy Theatre; the studios echoed laughter and dance. HDAT staff was preparing to celebrate the Academy's 15th anniversary. Master dancers and members of national Black Dance companies were preparing choreography for HDAT's annual Spring Dance Concert. The Pittsburgh Arts community was applauding HDAT for its work with young artists.

And then a global pandemic hit and changed everything. Suddenly, HDAT studios, once filled with the energy of the ancestors, were empty. Stay-at-home orders forced schools, churches, businesses, and the arts community to re-think ways to educate and engage.

For the first time, Dr. Ayisha Morgan-Lee held HDAT's Summer Dance Intensive without the usual parent pickup and drop-off, noisy lunchtime, and the hustle and bustle of dancers moving in and out of classes. HDAT families traded their summer dance routines for computers, laptops, and tablets. The Summer Dance Intensive went virtual. With a successful virtual summer completed, HDAT had to look forward to the fall dance season. With the help of the HDAT COVID-19 Task Force of parents, teaching artists, community educators, medical experts, and funders, it was decided that a virtual fall season would be the best and most safe way to move forward. But there was a challenge; one of the many lessons learned from the summer virtual season was that dancers found it difficult to execute dance techniques without the studio equipment of the Ballet Barré, a dance floor, and fitness tools.

This challenge was addressed with HDAT creating age-appropriate Home Dance Studios for dancers in Creative Movement, Pre-Academy, and the Pre-Professional Academy. The Home Dance Studios were complete with Ballet Barrés, dance floors, fitness equipment, and wireless earbuds, everything they needed to create what HDAT refers to as a "sacred space" for dance. Barrés for Creative Movement, Pre-Academy, and Level 1 dancers were custom designed and constructed by Peter Kope of Attack Theatre. Attack Theatre, under the leadership of Michele de la Reza, is an HDAT Community partner. On September 19th, HDAT families returned to HDAT for the first time in six months to pick up the Home Dance Studios. HDAT Dads stepped up and provided safe, and socially distance loading of the dance studio equipment into parent's cars.

Creating the Home Dance Studio concept was only the beginning of HDAT's virtual and technological challenges. HDAT staff and teaching artists provided 37 enrolled families with one to one support by helping families to set up their virtual home studios and assessing computer equipment, cameras and lighting for zoom use, and internet/bandwidth connections. Another lesson learned from the summer virtual season was the importance of providing parents with information about tools needed for virtual dance education.

HDAT is leading the charge in providing technology and accessibility for young artists and their families by providing support to ensure student engagement and continued excitement for learning using the world of virtual dance education.

The fall virtual dance education season is supported by parents, teaching artists, community partners, and the continued generosity of HDAT funders.

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