The show must go on: 5C dance students perform ‘Moving Together’ by Emily Dauwalder

A depiction of students taking dance class through zoom.
(Mariana Durán • The Student Life)

In an oxymoronic dilemma, 5C dance students are learning how to create synchrony while being hundreds and thousands of miles away from one another and split across time zones. 

This semester, with dance classes fully online, 258 dance students are learning how to do so, according to a TSL analysis of campus portals.

Emily Dauwalder PZ ’20 is one such dance student working on creating unity in dance from afar. Dauwalder had been working on her senior thesis in dance titled “Moving Together” when the 5Cs sent students home in March. As part of her thesis, she hosted a weekly movement class for members of the local Claremont community. 

“People would express this feeling of how great it was when they got to move in synchrony with someone else,” Dauwalder said. “And I said, ‘Okay, so how can I create that same feeling of empowerment but through Zoom?’”

Knowing how important it was to give her class a space to move while stuck at home, Dauwalder and other instructors were adaptive in getting the class back up. This has meant taking video chat technology — an obstacle at first — and creating new opportunities within the new medium, like focusing more on details and subtle, technical changes.

“Because the camera narrows everything into a very specific space, you really zero in on people and can help them technically with important corrections and thoughts and ideas and ways that they can approach their work to improve,” Pomona College dance professor Victoria Koenig said about teaching dance online. 

Video learning has also put an emphasis on musical accompaniment — with a lack of multiple dancers in one space, music is what bridges the space between participants.

“The [students] that are involved are loving moving. It is on a platform that’s challenging — but they’re still moving. They’re all listening to the classical music, [and] there’s still a sense of community, surprisingly,” Koenig said.

Dauwalder understands their desire to keep dancing, because she knows what it feels like to be cut off from it, as her 5C dance classes abruptly ended when she was sent home in March.

“I was personally devastated by that, because I went from dancing however many hours a day to nothing,” Dauwalder said. “Now I know that [dance programs] are doing their dance classes on Zoom, so I was really grateful that people who are still there now are getting to [keep dancing].”

The students’ resilience hasn’t gone unnoticed by their professors. 

“Maybe 80 percent of students that I’ve experienced do really well on the platform. In fact, [they] improve — not just tread water or exercise, but literally improve,” Koenig said.

Not everything has been smooth about the transition, however.

“Even though we are really trying and we still get glimpses of those moments of that muscular bonding or physical empathy or just connectedness, you have to focus on it more. You have to try harder than when you’re just in a room standing next to someone feeling their energy next to you,” Dauwalder said. 

“You have to try harder [online] than when you’re just in a room standing next to someone feeling their energy next to you.” — Daudwalder PZ ’20

Although the energy of in-person classes can’t be matched over Zoom, Dauwalder thinks it’s better to have Zoom energy than none at all.

“It will never be a true substitute for how uplifting it is to dance uninhibited with people in person, but it’s enough of a substitute for now,” Dauwalder said.

Koenig agrees that despite the new format, it’s important to continue to offer dance classes.

“No matter what level, [for] all of these schools that are so high powered mentally and intellectually, it’s a great relief for people to just be able to move and to experience that mind-body connection in a different way than intellectually,” Koenig said. “It’s therapeutic for them, to keep them balanced.”

Above all, no matter what challenges may arise from online dance, Koenig thinks one of the most important things is to have gratitude. 

“The bottom line, which I remind people of frequently,” Koenig said, “is ‘hey, we’re here. We’re healthy. We have access to this technology; we’re able to meet together and move and create art.’”

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