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Wednesday, March 03, 2021 — Houston, TX 41°

Student dancers leap into new challenges but keep momentum

Illustrated by Chloe Xu

By Emily Ma     10/13/20 10:49pm

Dancers across Rice campus are facing an unfamiliar set of obstacles as they shift online for the fall semester. COVID-19 restrictions may have brought regular rehearsals and performances to a halt, but Rice’s student dance organizations refuse to let these challenges deter them from doing what they love. 

In order to accommodate off-campus students, many teams have followed campus norms and switched to a remote format for the fall semester. However, rehearsing on Zoom has posed challenges — dancers are encountering a slew of technical difficulties. 

“With any video call, I think there’s always an inherent lag,” Najah Hussain, co-captain of Rice Bhangra, said. “It’s very important that you are able to see if your dancers are on time and on beat. But since everyone’s Wi-Fi is different, it’s hard to tell if people are in sync.”

Dancing on Zoom also contradicts the very essence of being on a dance team. Hussain said that rehearsing group dances builds a high level of coordination among members, and the lack of physical interaction on Zoom eliminates this integral experience.

“A big aspect of any Bhangra performance is the formations that the dancers physically make on stage,” Hussain said. “What we’re currently planning on doing for performances in a virtual format is to have each member record themselves performing the choreography, and then we would edit the videos together. However, in that format, I think it might not be feasible or possible to include formations, because you can’t really move the videos themselves around.” 

Partner-style dances are also significantly more challenging to coordinate over Zoom. Aaron Bayles, president of the Rice Salseros, described how the focus of his team has shifted from partner dances to individual workshops this semester. 

“For most of the pandemic, the performance team just didn’t meet at all, we still kept on doing the weekly workshops that were open to everyone,” Bayles said. “And we just had to focus on things that you can do by yourself, like footwork sequences and general technique and practicing the fundamentals. But you know, the real heart of salsa is dancing with other people. And so it’s been really hard to transition away from doing that.”

Technical issues and physical distancing may be difficult, but for many dancers, the biggest frustration lies in their inability to socialize with teammates face to face. “This year with everything being virtual, it’s a little bit harder because some people don’t turn on their cameras, or don’t feel comfortable talking to people who are also on the Zoom call as well. So the social aspect of practices have definitely changed,” Linda Liu, president of K-pop/hip-hop dance group BASYK, said. 

The majority of performances have been canceled due to COVID-19, disappointing many of the dancers. Liu said the lack of an end goal makes it difficult to keep up the momentum of rehearsals. “We probably won’t be able to have our showcase this year,” Liu said. “That was our goal at the end of every practice, or every couple sessions, and it would all lead up to the performance.”

In the face of these setbacks, dance teams are hosting new activities to bond with fellow dancers and build a sense of community. Although these virtual meetings can’t fully replicate in-person activities, dancers are already fostering new connections with their teammates. Peggy Polydoros, vice president of the Rice Owls Dance team, said the dance team has been pairing up team members for weekly coffee chats, virtual or in person.

“I just had a coffee date with one of our new freshmen earlier today, and we just got to know each other better and talk about this semester. So that’s been really helpful for getting to know the new people, especially because it’s hard to get to know everyone when we’re busy during practice, and when everyone’s wearing a mask,” Polydoros said. 

According to Pia Arana, a dancer on the Rice Owls Dance Team, dancing can be a source of community and bonding, allowing students to connect through shared passions. 

“It’s a mental break,” Arana said. “Coming into college, I knew that I definitely wanted to join a dance team, because having that team support and bonding is very special. And I can tell that the freshmen girls that are on the team, we’re already starting to come closer. So it’s the building of the community that I really like about it and doing that through dance.”

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