Keeping dance students safe during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic begins from the floor up.
Physical distancing and wearing face coverings have been integral to staying healthy, of course, but another top priority for Illinois State University dance faculty during this challenging time has been the cleanliness of studio floors.
“Dancers are barefoot and rolling on the floor,” said Darby Wilde, head of the dance department. “We’ve had to use cleaners that wouldn’t ruin the floor and still kill COVID, but not hurt humans. There has been a lot of mopping.”
To prepare for the school year, Wilde said an ad hoc committee of Theatre and Dance faculty met over the summer once a week to talk safety and cleaning protocols.
“It was really a labor of love to do the best we could for the students,” she said.
Senior Georgia Kaminski is a dual major in dance teacher education and small business management. With a cumulative GPA of 4.0, she’s serious about both disciplines.
“I want to be a high school dance teacher and own my own studio,” said Kaminski, a Plainfield native. “That’s where the business degree comes in.”
A dancer since the age of 3, Kaminski has never a seen a season like this one where the pandemic moved classes, rehearsals, and performances online. This past semester her dance classes were hybrid with half on Zoom and half in-person.
One of the biggest challenges since the pandemic began has been putting on the department’s dance concert every semester. Rehearsal time for Kaminski was restricted to a group of five dancers, with each using a 10-foot box—marked out on the floor by tape—to keep physically distanced from the other dancers, who all wore face coverings.
In all, 21 dance students performed to five musical pieces that were choreographed by a faculty member and a guest artist. Faculty participants included: Laina Reese Carney, Gregory Merriman, Kaley Pruitt, and Wilde. The guest artist was Lindsey Miller, an alumna of the program. This most recent dance concert was appropriately called “Shift.” Wilde served as the show’s artistic director.
Since a live audience wasn’t allowed, performances were videotaped and shared online on November 17, 18, and 19. The school box office emailed a signup link to the University community with a Zoom link. It was also shared on Facebook, and the dancers could share it on their own social media. Despite not having an audience, Kaminski was very pleased with how things turned out.
“It was really great, really unique, and one of my favorite dance concerts to be part of,” she said. “We had really great pieces related to diversity, injustice, even a piece that honored Breonna Taylor.”
Wilde said courses were designed during the semester so that students could be in the studio safely, including using the stage in the Center for Performing Arts since that allowed more space for dancers. She said students had to be transparent and communicative about challenges they were facing, and faculty had to be flexible in supporting them.
“Dance culture is about being on time, being accountable and disciplined, and this helped us evolve our teaching and communication,” Wilde said, adding that she admired how students evolved and grew through the experience and how they supported each other.
“It was a surprising dynamic and actually really quite wonderful,” she said.
She also noted how important it’s been to feel the steady, caring leadership of her department and college.
“The support from the director of Theatre and Dance, Ann Haugo, and Dean Jean Miller of the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts, has allowed us to serve our students in the best way we could,” Wilde said.
Kaminski said learning how to adapt during a pandemic has prepared her to be the best teacher she can be. She’s also happy that even with all the challenges she’ll still finish both of her degrees in four years. And, she experienced a lot of firsts. Creating dance for videotape and not performing for an audience stand out—but not as negatives.
“Because it was such a unique experience we get to share the memories and enjoy our art form,” she said. “We loved every second of it. We will never forget.”
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