Although Whitman College is not a dance school, there are still a good number of Whitman students who are involved with dance on campus, be it by taking dance classes, pursuing a dance minor or being involved in student dance groups. However, with the shift to online learning, many dancers have struggled to find the space to continue their passion.
Anna Johnston, a junior English major who is highly involved with dance at Whitman, has been dancing since she was three years old. Although she started with ballet, she has started to dance more modern and contemporary since coming to Whitman and has performed in several capacities on campus.
According to Johnston, it was especially difficult to dance after returning home.
“The pandemic has affected my dancing a lot. I was lucky enough to dance with Ogden Movement Collective this summer and help put on a socially distanced performance in masks,” Johnston said. “But I have been struggling to find outlets for my dancing love. My childhood living room was full of pets and did not quite accommodate pointe shoes and improv.”
However, she has not been without dance — Johnston explained that right after Whitman went online, Professor Renée Archibald hosted an online dance party.
“Sal Goldmine blasted music through the Zoom call,” said Johnston. “That was some of the best and most needed dancing I’ve ever done.”
Another student who has been taking a lot of dance classes at Whitman is Zoë Hill, a senior computer science major who is minoring in dance. According to Hill, Whitman’s dance teachers, Peter DeGrasse and Renée Archibald, were a big part of why she kept dancing after her first ballet class the second semester of her first year.
“I think that Peter and Renée are incredibly gifted in the way that they communicate material in each of their classes. It’s more than just dance, it’s a way of approaching learning, and approaching movement and learning about yourself,” said Hill.
Hill also said that she was drawn to dance because of the way it allowed her to connect with her body, especially after more than fifteen years of difficult athletics.
“I’ve always been a really intense competitive athlete, and my background is mostly competitive swimming,” said Hill. “I kind of came into the dance scene already being pretty in tune with my body, but not in a way where I was listening to it — more in a way that I was pushing it. So I loved… getting to see another side of how you can be in your body and move through the world.”
Hill has been taking dance classes ever since then, although she explained that the transition from in-person to online was extremely rough for her dance class last semester.
“A lot of what [my class] was focused on before we went online was being in touch with yourself and your surroundings, and also in that were the other people that were in that class,” explained Hill. “We really tried to create a community in the first month that we had, and even so it was very different when we went online, a lot more focused on meditation and… looking more inward.”
However, Hill explained that class this semester has gone a lot more smoothly. Professors have had more time to prepare and develop their material, and Hill has been enjoying her current dance class, especially the session where she got to dance with her housemate — although she noted it is hard to find space in the house to dance.
Tasia Wu, a junior majoring in politics in history and anticipating a dance minor who has been dancing since the fifth grade, has also been feeling limited by lack of space.
“COVID-19 has really impacted me with dance in the regard of limiting/stopping me from dance — when I was home I had not the space to dance, and there were no studios for rent or open studios where I could go and take classes,” Wu said. “Probably the most I do is short little creative bursts that I have in my room before going to bed, but that’s about it.”
Wu explained that although technically one could go off and dance wherever, environment is a huge thing for her as a dancer and she hasn’t been able to have space for herself. However, the dance studio on campus is starting to open back up in a limited capacity, and Wu is excited to have the space to express herself again.
“I think a lot of dancers could say this, but dance is certainly an emotional and mental health outlet for me, and it’s been extremely hard with COVID-19 and… not to sound cheesy, but I kind of lost myself during COVID-19 because I didn’t have that outlet,” said Wu. “That’s why I’m excited to have the ability to go dance somewhere, because I feel like I’ll be learning myself again to a degree, with this new challenge of this pandemic on top.”
Wu also recalled the Fall Dance Studio Series, which she said helped her view Zoom in a different light, even though it was weird to dance in front of a screen instead of an audience. Many dancers, both students and professionals, have been turning to online formats in order to remain connected.
“It’s been very interesting and inspiring to see how different artists come up with different means to get through the pandemic… and it hopefully motivates me to push myself and get a little more creative, and perhaps a little more dedicated, towards actively keeping dance within my life,” said Wu.
Although this semester has presented many challenges, students, faculty and professional dancers alike have worked around them — or chosen to take a break. Hopefully, with the reopening of the dance studio, more students will be able to return to the creative outlet they love.