Teaching and Dancing in a Virtual World
Never in my life would I have thought that virtual dance and teaching would be a thing; but if these past eight months have taught me anything, it is that anything is possible with community support. Although there have been many setbacks, I’m confident that our dance community, here at HDAT, is flourishing through these challenging new times. I have had various concerns throughout this year, but I know that I’ll be taken care of in my HDAT family. This past Spring Season was to be my last season with HDAT. I missed New York and wanted to continue my dance journey in the place that had my heart. Sadly, in March we were placed in mandatory quarantine. Although I was devastated that my plans would have to wait, I used the pandemic as an opportunity to better my technique and artistry. I would exercise in the morning, take a technique class outside in my backyard, stretch, and have the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted. I started reading the books that were collecting dust in my closet, catching up on my Spanish lessons, trying out new recipes, and relaxing. But after those initial weeks, I started to get a ‘dancer’s block’. Taking classes online was becoming a chore, the mosquitoes were out for me, and my creative energy seemed to be dwindling by the hour and I had no creative outlet. I found myself sleeping in longer than usual, not taking classes, and mindlessly watching endless YouTube videos. I was constantly questioning my love and loyalty to dance. Had I wasted my adolescence on dance classes and aspirations for a career in dance? Thankfully, it wasn’t too long before I received a call from Dr. Ayisha about continuing classes via Zoom for the spring and summer series. That woke me up from my slumber. Watching my students dance and take classes has always inspired me to work hard on making sure that students were getting the best teaching and support. It was also a way for me to work on my creativity with choreography to express how we were all feeling through these times as a dance community. This turned out to be the best remedy for my “Dancer’s Block”. I was back to enjoying my art, the way I moved, and how far I had come as a dance artist. I conjured up different dance sequences for my students and had them improvise choreography and it felt good to watch them dancing and enjoying themselves. However, it was not long before, I found myself stuck with another obstacle, that of engaging my students through a screen. I pride myself on being a hands-on teacher where I always do the exercises with the students, I adjust their bodies to correct placement, I stand on my chair and yell, I slump over in exasperation and occasionally I throw a ballet shoe or two. I was struggling and they were also struggling. For students, it is difficult to take a regular class online, but a dance class presents a different level of work. Weight distribution, body placement, and alignment were common struggles of the students, not being able to find the correct words and actions to help them was another and it was affecting them negatively. Students that were amazing in the studio looked confused on the screen; some would ball their fist in irritation, while others would shed tears of frustration at not getting simple moves right. I had to take a step back and look at other teachers and their processes and adjust accordingly. Using more descriptive words, demonstrating slower, and individually correcting students were some of the things that I saw other teachers doing, so I added those changes to my classes. These small changes made a world of difference to the students. Checking in with the students at the beginning and end of class, asking how their day was going, what they were excited about doing, and what goals they wanted to focus on and accomplish during class had a positive impact on engaging students. They were more open to critique and left the class feeling good. I’m still learning new things about myself as a dancer, and about my students. I hope that the strong dance community at HDAT can transcend screens and continually engage our students and everyone that we come in contact with. Dance is meant to be shared with everyone and I’m glad that HDAT's dance community has been able to encourage me as a teaching artist to share my love and passion through zoom screens to students who continue to dance in a virtual world.