The Arts Live On: Theatre and Dance Department Students Adapt to Physical Distanced Studio Spaces

Seton Hill students practice physical distancing and wear masks as dance classes begin this semester. Photo courtesy of Madison Harry.

Virtual Zoom meetings have become a norm over the last few months for university classroom learning, but also for studio settings in the arts. As students return to campus this fall for in-person learning, the Seton Hill University Theatre and Dance Department have thought creatively about the adaptation to accommodate social distancing guidelines for courses and productions. 

“Personally, I sat in on webinars all summer that were organized by the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), so I discussed ideas with other faculty members across the country. The top concern was dancing in a mask and choosing the right mask because sweat can compromise the integrity of the mask,” said TaMara Swank, faculty member and Department Coordinator, as she discussed her involvement in the preparation for the adaptation of the Seton Hill Arts Center studios.

After addressing the concern of the masks, much of the changes would involve the preparation of studio spaces before dancers arrived on the first day of classes.

“To address the physical distancing guidelines, dancers have to be farther away from each other. It was agreed upon to create 9×9 squares for dancers and spaces for their belongings. Thanks to technology, there is the ability to have split studio spaces so dancers could be in the studios instead of their dorm rooms,” Swank said. “Cleaning was another important aspect for the marley floors, technology, and barres. There was careful consideration in the entering, participation, and leaving of students.”

Faculty members also had to consider the impact of the changes and how it would affect their students’ dancing in the confined boundaries. 

The students have been very receptive of the changes during their technique classes. Increasing their capacity to dance fully while being mindful of where they are in relation to other dancers by staying in the boundaries of their individual decreased dancing area,” Nichole Slavin, faculty member and choreographer said. “They are doing a wonderful job of being mindful of their spatial relations as well as adapting well to the use of the masks during intense physical exertion.”

The Theatre and Dance Department students and staff were able to assist in the careful and thorough thought process to create safe learning environments 

“I am especially proud of all the students in their first week of classes and their good sense of cooperation to make this process work,” Swank said. 

After the first couple weeks of classes, students are already recognizing the efforts of the faculty and staff to allow dance classes and events to continue. 

“Following the CDC guidelines has forced the dance department to rely upon their creativity more than ever,” said Shelby Walsh, senior choreographer for the Fall Dance Concert. “While dancing in masks, limiting cast sizes and eliminating our live on stage performance has been a difficult adjustment, these changes also have the ability to positively change the program for the future.”

While not in the traditional formats we are accustomed to viewing, the arts live on. Adaptations are difficult, however, the faculty and students are resilient about sharing their love of the arts, even in online and video mapping formats. The Theatre and Dance Department provide an excellent example of the Seton Hill University motto, “Hazard Yet Forward.”

Exact details on how and when the Fall Dance Concert will be presented at a later date. 

Published by Mikaela Fitzpatrick

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