The transition to online learning this quarter has not been without complications for any of us, but this is true even more so for majors that are built upon in-person instruction. 

For UC Santa Barbara’s dance majors, virtual classes are uncharted territory and have left many of them struggling to find their footing. Students have had to motivate themselves to set aside rehearsal times and have been challenged to find new channels for creativity, but it is all part of the process, according to third-year dance major Tabitha Stewart.

“It’s been really helpful for me to find other creative outlets that I haven’t necessarily practiced before. Although I’m not feeling super motivated as a dancer, I’m trying to keep my body in shape by going to technique classes and doing yoga and pilates and stuff,” Stewart said. “But then, having other creative outlets like cooking or learning to play an instrument or drawing, I’m trying to just move my creativity in a different direction.” 

UC Santa Barbara dance majors attend class over Zoom. Courtesy of Alice Lousen

Second-year dance and environmental studies major Alice Lousen acknowledges that the switch to online classes has not been straightforward for the professors as well. The dance department does not rely on GauchoSpace the way other departments do, so instructors are figuring out how to use the platform at the same time as their students. “They don’t know what we can see and what they can see, so that’s been rough,” Lousen admits. 

As a result of the unforeseeable global pandemic, all Spring Quarter 2020 productions have had to be canceled or rescheduled, which is disappointing for dancers who have devoted hours of their time each week to rehearsing and perfecting their performances. Even though these shows will not take place as planned, Stewart does not view the past year’s work as wasted time because of relationships she formed with her fellow dancers. “The community, the collaboration, it’s been so inspiring to work with them whether or not we got to perform it.” She also mentions that there is a chance that these performances will see the stage in the future, but everything is still up in the air. 

Fourth-year dance major Colson Lynn says that he is making the best of the situation by taking advantage of the abundance of resources found online. 

“There’s so much out in the dance world right now that’s being offered for free. I’m taking classes with a bunch of different choreographers that I never would have had the experience otherwise because they’re all based in New York. Their classes are online and free, so I’ve been motivated to keep practicing by taking something new,” Lynn said.

Between academic classes, rehearsals and performances, dance majors are used to having highly structured schedules, and for third-year dance major Amity Beardsley, the lack of structure to her day has been the most difficult aspect of online classes. “I personally need structure but I prefer when it’s laid out already. It’s been hard to get everything done on my own terms. Honestly, I don’t think I have as much work, but because I have a hard time getting motivated it takes me probably double the amount of time.”  

In comparison to many other majors, where classes are generally rather sedentary, the life of a dance major is defined by physical movement. With the stay-at-home restrictions, the hours spent in front of her laptop are less than ideal, says Lousen. Given the extra time, she makes it a point to explore other classes and activities in order to recalibrate. 

Despite all of the obstacles that dance majors have had to navigate, many of them take comfort in knowing that they are a part of a close-knit community where everyone looks out for one another. Second-year dance and psychological & brain sciences major Isabel Meena noted that several dancers formed a group chat called “Movers and Zoomers” once they realized that classes were going to be online.

“Especially during this when we’re all kind of struggling at home, it’s been really nice to at least know we can get in class with each other. The first Zoom meeting that we had, where I got to see all my friends’ faces on a computer screen, that’s better than nothing,” says Meena. 

UC Santa Barbara’s administration has still not decided on how it will approach Fall Quarter 2020 instruction, but Stewart says that the dance department is pushing to get its students back on campus as soon as possible. “Our faculty is incredibly creative, obviously, and they have all these very creative solutions and ways that they could go about keeping us safe but still allowing us to dance.” 

If classes do not return to in-person instruction for the upcoming school year, however, many students are re-evaluating the decision to pay full tuition for remote instruction and are considering taking fall quarter off. Meena admits that she is not sure if virtual instruction is worth the challenges. “It makes me wonder, if classes end up being online in the fall, if I want to keep doing that to myself.” 

In the face of COVID-19, students and faculty have been inspired to come up with creative solutions for what will ultimately just be a bump in the road for the department. In the meantime, these dancers will continue to lean on their passion for their craft as they look forward to hitting the dance floor with each other once again. 

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