By Alison Waller || Contributing Writer
In COVID-19 era, it is extremely difficult to replicate our prior sense of normalcy. Specifically, it is a challenge for our extracurricular activities to trudge through adjusting to these unprecedented times while still providing enrichment and opportunities for fun. I conversed with Kristin Jones (‘21), the student president of the F&M Dance Company and one of the co-presidents of the Dance Team, and Pamela Vail, a dance professor at F&M and choreographer for the Dance Company.
I interviewed Kristin Jones about the status of F&M’s Dance Team and the precautions the team has been taking to ensure safety. She informed me that the Dance Team has two rehearsals per week: one on Zoom, and one at Armstrong North Field (the huge field behind College Row). The Zoom rehearsal is not only for safety purposes, but it is also to keep sophomore dancers engaged in the program. When the team rehearses in person, they are masked and socially distanced at all times.
The Dance Team typically performs at the homecoming game, and since that is not possible this year, the team has to find some alternatives. Kristin said that the team is enrolling in online competitions to substitute for the annual school events the team has lost.
While Kristin spoke to me about missing having the entire team together and being able to incorporate physical touch, she also expressed to me that in both the Dance Team and Company, she has appreciated utilizing nature and embracing the space that comes with dancing on a field. As a dancer, she enjoys the new level of creativity that comes with the challenge of choreographing and performing in a new space. Also, as a senior at F&M, she is grateful for the opportunity to continue dancing and be proud of her fellow dancers, even if it is not how she had previously imagined her senior performances to look. Kristin told us, “The F&M dance community has continued to find strength and healing through dance and art, and we have pushed ourselves more than ever to be flexible and adaptable with our work. From virtual practices to wide open fields, we are finding new ways to connect, create, and share space.”
Next, I interviewed Pamela Vail about F&M Dance from the perspective of a faculty member. Pam has informed me that the COVID-19 guidelines she follows when teaching dance aligns with the guidelines of the National Dance Education Organization and Dance USA. These regulations are also applied to the Dance Company rehearsals held at Armstrong North Field. All dancers are at least 6 feet apart, wear shoes and masks, and there is no floor choreography. Most company classes are held online as a handful of curricular classes. If class is in person, safety precautions are consistently taken.
Pam discussed the challenges she faces as an instructor to feel connected to her dancers while following these guidelines. She said that it has been harder to get to know her new students, especially the freshmen she has just met this year. She also misses having the entire company in one studio rather than some students being outside, with only half of their faces showing, and the other half online. But Pam has thoroughly enjoyed the creative challenge that comes with choreographing outdoors. She loved choreographing her Module 1 Modern piece for the Module 1 Fall Dance Event.
In Pam’s opinion, the greatest silver lining to dancing in the era of COVID-19 is the ability to reimagine what dance can look like: “The dance discipline trains us in adaptability and resilience. So, we’re getting to call on those skills in new ways like never before. I think that’s a good thing. I think we get stronger, I think we get more resilient, more adaptable, more flexible. And all of those things are really positive.”
Personally, as a student that performed in Pam’s Module 1 Modern piece, I felt that performing outside on a field felt so natural, which to me, perfectly reflects what modern dance represents. This genre of dance was based on a movement rejecting restrictive dance techniques. What better way to reject traditions than to perform offstage?
It seems that even though it is difficult to create relationships with others with a complete lack of touch and big group events, the Dance Program is still flourishing in this new era of thinking and creating art. Dancers are excited and grateful to be able to dance at all during the pandemic and appreciate being able to do so in new and memorable ways. Meanwhile, the choreographers are also embracing site-specific work and taking in the space that comes with choreographing on an entire field.
First-year Alison Waller is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.