As Dance Shifts in Virtual Academia
March 23, 2020
As Universities shift to continuing the rest of their 2020 spring semesters virtually, being an academic in dance is shifting, as well.
It’s been ten days since my roommates and I have been self-quarantining and social distancing. We roll up our living room rug, roll the ottoman into the kitchen, and push that velvety chair back into the wall as far as we can manage - maximizing the space that we have. We tune into Livestream classes offered by dance choreographers, professionals, and teachers, and we dance in our living room together. I think about the number of people watching with us, taking the class with us from a distance, all over the world: in their kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms. We take daily walks, being careful to stay a safe distance away from others -- but we still say good morning to those we pass (I think that’s particularly important). We come across a park we never knew about, and watch as the trees bloom and the flowers poke their heads out of the soil. We make meals together and we clean up the kitchen together. We read articles, and hypothesize how long we’ll be in quarantine, or if our state will go into lockdown or shelter-in-place soon.
We are all dance majors, my roommates and I, pursuing our BFA’s at the University of the Arts. Yesterday, we were told that the rest of the semester would continue virtually, similarly to most other universities, in light of health and safety precautions being taken globally due to COVID-19. I am brought to think about the necessity of individual action in terms of the architecture of the community: keeping ourselves healthy, but more importantly, keeping those at risk healthy, making sure the capacity of our healthcare system is strong enough to care for those who need it, and sharing the resources we can to those impacted by a loss of income -- particularly prevalent in the dance, freelance, and performing arts communities. This is done by social distancing, reaching out, donating what we can, sharing virtual resources, and taking time to reflect on how our systems, institutions, and societies work in times like these. Right now, everything is shifting - and the question of how sufficient and fulfilling our education can still be as dancers, or performing artists, in general, is being challenged, questioned, and shifted with everything else.
Academia is and has historically been, tied to institutions. Though it still is, even in this shifting structure of virtual learning, having to make such a quick adjustment because of necessity has caused me to reflect on how I can look at my place in academia differently. As a dancer, a large part of what I’ve experienced in my education is learning together, thinking academically in my movement practices, and challenging what I knew to be comfortable the week, or the day before. This includes connecting and communicating with our professors and classmates in a multidimensional, expansive, and collaborative studio space. When this shifts to separate spaces, smaller spaces, and isolated spaces, I question how I can still learn such a personal, interactive, physical craft on my own - or with my roommates in our living room.
I question how this learning can be and is more than virtual. We are facilitating our own spaces of learning, finding new schedules and rituals, and reformatting the way we know and have known academia. We are reformatting how we know our lives to format themselves inside of schedules in an institution: we learn in the space we have access to, now. We learn in unconventional spaces. I am wondering how we can take this same facilitation of transition, of expanding the spaces that we are currently residing in and apply this facilitation elsewhere. How can we expand our academic spaces and make them more accessible? How can we reformat how we individually learn and situate ourselves inside of academia? How can the principle of shifting continue within the same space, over and over?
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