Dancing through the pandemic

Photo/Natasha Colburn

Last spring, when UVU went full online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several dance concerts were canceled last minute. This semester, UVU’s dance companies have been working hard to keep dancing, even though it might have to look different than normal.

Ballroom Dance Company:

The ballroom dance company has been hit the hardest. One of the main aspects of ballroom dance is partner dancing, something the team hasn’t been able to do in order to maintain CDC guidelines. Despite this challenge, the team has adapted well. Their numbers feature dancers on their own more, and they’ve also incorporated scarves, sheets and paso doble capes to “partner” dance without physically touching. This helps them maintain a 6-foot distance and it allows them to continue doing small tricks and lifts. They also have choreographed pieces in a way that dancers perform near each other without touching — giving the visual of partner dancing. After practices, they sanitize all their props and studios. 

“The first hardest thing is not being able to partner. Choreographing a genre of dance that is almost always connected has been a real challenge for the dancers, coaches and teachers of technique classes,” said Tara Boyd, the tour team director. “The other big challenge for teams is room restriction. The rooms are only allowed to have eight students in them. The tour team has 24 dancers, so every dancer has to come in every third day.”

Steven Trujillo, a freshman majoring in music, has had quite the unique experience for his first time on UVU’s ballroom team. 

“I don’t think it changes the fact that we feel like a family, it just makes it a little harder,” he said. “It’s been a tough time for everyone, audience members and performers included. There’s a lot of things that everyone is new to. If you go to a restaurant, they’re gonna take longer to prepare your food because they have to sanitize. We have the same type of restrictions that prevent us from giving the best experience that we are capable of. We’re still gonna give you our all and give you everything we can, but there’s a pandemic holding us back.”

One number, a rumba, tells the story of 2020, exemplifying the changes the world has had to face in this time, and more personally, the team’s challenges.

Currently, the team is still trying to set how their concert will be available. They do know that their show will be recorded and they will not perform for a public audience. Originally, this recording was going to be shown to an audience at 1/3 attendance, but they have had to change their plan since Utah went into the high-risk category. This means this showing is only open to students and faculty. As of now, awaiting copyright is keeping them from knowing if they can livestream to a more public audience. Their close friends and family may only be able to watch the performance through DVDs.

*Update: The team recently announced that their concert will be open to a virtual audience Nov. 21. Tickets can be purchased here.

Boyd says she hopes by their next concert in April, they will be able to have a public audience.

One thing that has helped is that the team has been granted supplemental time in the Grand Ballroom — which has a room capacity of 40 — so they are able to have the whole team come to practice on the days they have access to the room.

The Ballroom Dancing Company has adapted to choreographing during the pandemic by eliminating dances that involve partners and touching. Unfortunately, this limits the dancers severely and makes things much more difficult, but they have risen to the challenge. (Photo/Natasha Colburn)

As of now, they plan on keeping the same guidelines next semester. However, Boyd hopes they might be allowed to partner dance within 15 minutes at the end of class and have a live audience at some point.

Although it has been difficult, team members have been able to remain optimistic.

Jacob Baker, a junior who is planning on going into theater, has been dancing on the company’s tour team for three and a half years. For him, the hardest part has been not being able to spend time with his dance friends outside of class. Dance-wise, he feels that things have been better than any other semester because he took the time before school started to prepare himself psychologically, mentally, physically and emotionally. He says that the show will be less stressful since it will be recorded and there won’t be as many quick changes and running backstage. However, he will miss feeding off the audience’s energy. 

Baker hopes they might be able to appeal and introduce partnering dancing for next semester, but definitely wants to keep masks on. 

“There’s still gonna be plenty of rules, I understand, I just hope we can convince the dance department to do partner work,” he said.

Lisa Torres, a ballroom senior, said a lot has changed and that it’s definitely hard, but she is glad that they are able to still come to campus and work on their art.

“I feel I tried to be positive about it as much as I can, and it has made me a stronger dancer by myself. I definitely have grown a lot … We are doing our best to follow restrictions while still learning. It makes it very difficult as a dancer, especially a ballroom dancer,” she said. “It’s been a crazy year, it’s been really hard, but we’re doing the best we can and it’s made most people a better dancer to be stronger and more independent. I am just grateful that we can still come to school and somewhat partner through scarves and silk.”

Follow their Facebook page to stay updated on this year’s performance.

Repertory Ballet Ensemble:

Jamie Johnson, the co-artistic director of the Repertory Ballet Ensemble, said that currently, the company is busy recording all their numbers. The show will be available to students and faculty in the Smith Theater Feb. 5-6.  However, they are hoping that Utah’s coronavirus status will change by then so they can open the concert to more people.

Johnson says that ballet has been able to move forward through this difficult time by reimagining everything. One aspect that made this semester challenging for the team was that they needed to practice in separate groups. Until this week, the entire team has not been able to practice together.

The Repertory Ballet Ensemble has prepared two dances for film and two regular stage pieces. They are planning on using the film dances to showcase different aspects and angles of their performance. Some of the numbers will be recorded in multiple locations, such as their “Alice in Wonderland” dance that is set to have Evermore as one of its settings. Their other numbers include “Swan Lake”, a dance choreographed by Stefan Zubal and another titled “Before the Fall” by Mark Borchelt. These dances will showcase different aspects and capabilities of the dancers, ranging from classical ballet to contemporary and character-piece.

The Repertory Ballet Ensemble practicing their “Alice in Wonderland” number in the Smith Theatre. (Photo/Kayla Baggerly.)

Currently, the Repertory Ballet Ensemble has already filmed one of their numbers and expects to finish the others before Thanksgiving Break. As of now, they’re planning on safety protocols being the same next semester. 

Olivia Perry, a sophomore in the ballet program, says that although 2020 has brought unique challenges, it has taught the team a lot too.

“The dynamic is completely different this year. Not being able to be in rehearsal every day has affected everyone a lot. Not being able to feed off of each other’s energy is a lot different. Everyone’s not as close this year because we are all in the studio at different times. Rehearsals at home are definitely harder, especially learning choreography is more difficult,” she said. “But, it’s been a learning experience and I think it will only help us in the long run if we perform or are in companies in the future after college. It’s definitely been very difficult for a lot of us, but also helped make us stronger in a sense.”

Synergy:

Synergy, UVU’s contemporary dance company, is preparing to put on their upcoming show “Momentum.” Despite COVID-19, they’ve strived to keep training hard. They’re also doing all they can to keep their team safe. Dancers are required to social distance and wear masks, and the team has carried out multiple rehearsals through asynchronous methods. When they practice in the studio, they mop and sanitize it right after rehearsal. 

Their show runs from Nov. 12-13. The first show will be an in-person concert limited to UVU students and staff, and the second will be available virtually for all patrons with a ticket. Student tickets are $2 and faculty tickets are $5.

*Update: Due to Gov. Herbert’s recent mandates, Synergy has postponed their concert. They plan on rescheduling it for a virtual showing.

The show’s title, “Momentum,” is meant to reflect the seven pieces planned for the concert. Five of the numbers are student choreographed, one is faculty choreographed, and one is professionally choreographed by Bret Easterling. Utilizing technology, he taught the team a 12-minute dance through Zoom from his home in California. LeGrande Lolo, a student assistant and modern dance junior, attributes much of the inspiration for the show this year to community.

Jessica Ketchum, a student assistant and dance education senior, discussed the challenges that this year has presented to the company. 

“The most difficult part about choreographing pieces this year is adjusting how to create relationships and interactions with dancers on stage without being able to touch or get close to one another,” she said.

Lolo explained that although this has made dance tough, it has its positives.

“Wearing masks, not touching, reworking partnering to be nonexistent has been very hard. It’s made us more creative, work harder and rely on each other more,” he said.

Going into the next semester, the company is planning for similar circumstances. 

Mos.A.I.C:

Mos.A.I.C is one of the younger companies at UVU, having been around for eight years. Started by Ashley Kimsey after a hip hop performance in 2011, the group has been a great outlet for talented creatives at UVU. In their short time, they have already had many great accomplishments, such as last year when they won first place at Monsters of Hip Hop in Las Vegas. Their name, “Mos.A.I.C”, is an acronym for “mos(t) artistic inspired creators”, and although 2020 has created many obstacles, their creativity hasn’t stopped. This year is definitely unique, but Mos.A.I.C is up for the challenge.

The show this year is going to be different. Set to be performed in the Ragan Theater, seats will be limited and audience members will need to social distance and wear a mask. They will also be hosting a livestream for anyone who might want to watch from home. Tickets will range from $11-$15 and can be purchased through campus connection or UVU’s website. To stay updated when more information releases about the concert, follow the team on instagram @uvu.mos.a.i.c.

“With all the craziness due to COVID, we are changing a few things with the show this year,” said Jasmine Quinton, the director of Mos.A.I.C. “We are excited for the show ‘cause this pushes us to be more creative and think outside the box.”

COVID-19 has changed how practices look. The team has had to limit practices to 6-10 people and use livestreams as well. Quinton says that this is difficult because it can be harder to learn pieces online. She hopes things are able to change next semester and says that they would love to have more people in rehearsals as their show gets closer. This would allow them to finish pieces quicker and prepare as best as possible.

She also said that the team has missed the in-person aspect since they aren’t able to be together as much and get inspiration from each other like usual. However, they have been able to really focus on the important things to prepare to make the upcoming concert as great as possible. 

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