Appreciation of art: ECU students are grateful for the chance to keep dancing | New


If the dancers weren’t required to wear masks, it might be hard to miss the smiles during ECU’s senior choreography production.

The performance, which will feature works by more than half a dozen student choreographers, will air Saturday and Sunday on the university’s website. While everyone would be happier if this weekend’s show could be live at the McGinnis Theater, the students are thankful the dance was not canceled.

Dance is one of the few majors at East Carolina University that has been able to hold on to face-to-face classes, as COVID-19 has forced other programs to switch to fully virtual instruction for the second consecutive semester.

“We’re one of the very few programs that are on campus at this point because of the type of work we do,” said John Dixon, associate professor of dance at the School of Drama and Dance of the ECU. “They (the dancers) feel so grateful that the university made the exception for our program.”

When ECU announced during spring break in March that classes would continue online due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ashley McDonnell did the same as the other students. She made the most of it, despite the fact that it meant the cancellation of the spring dance show.

“We tried taking line dancing lessons, everyone was doing it in your living room and working more asynchronously than we’re used to,” said the Newton, New Jersey native. “I think we were all a little depressed about it. It didn’t really work out that well.

When it looked like a slight increase in COVID-19 cases could set the stage for a similar scenario this fall, Liza Eller, a senior dance and choreography major, was concerned. Taking a semester in her senior year didn’t seem like a good option, but she didn’t want to spend everything playing solo through Zoom either.

“Depending on your major, it’s hard to continue,” she said. “Dance majors, it would be really hard not to have interaction; that’s how we get our training.

“It was really good that we were able to sort things out to get a bit of the normal experience that we need to train,” said Eller. “We are really lucky that this was able to happen for us. “

Having junior and senior dancers rehearse on campus required a level of complexity close to that of choreography. Along with the typical masks and hand sanitizer, dance students had to stay covered from head to toe, wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks.

No more than eight dancers are allowed per studio, where instructors used duct tape on the floor to mark 10 feet of spacing. Individual classes have been divided into four studios on campus, where groups of dancers rehearse simultaneously, with some of their classmates joining via Zoom.

Entrance and exit doors are designated so that student pathways do not overlap. Class hours have been reduced by 10 minutes to allow everything from the ballet barre to the dance floor to be sanitized between groups.

“Our floors have never been cleaner,” Dixon said with a laugh.

But the precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are serious; students understand that an epidemic could send everyone home. Dancers are also aware that in many colleges and universities across the country, classes do not meet at all.

Dixon said such situations left students listless, depressed, and disconnected from their motivation as artists.

“I think it’s consistent with so many people around the world,” he said. “It’s a lot to take when you can’t interact with others, and in an art form where interacting with others is an important part of the form, I think the impact has been even greater. in many ways.

“From our perspective, art is a necessity, but it’s also a luxury,” Dixon said. “We use this line every day. “

While in-person rehearsals were permitted, ECU performing arts students were prohibited from participating in live performances open to the public. This is why this semester, dance has gone digital.

But despite the unprecedented circumstances, recording the dance is nothing new to many students. Dixon has been training dancers in this technique for years.

Students begin their freshman year by building a website and progressing to learning basic camera and film skills. By the time they are in upper class, they have learned to create and edit video footage of their dance and choreography.

“You have to have these skills today,” Dixon said. “Of course, it is possible to be just a good dancer, but in the complexity of the dance world, certainly at this time with the pandemic, the people who are going to be wanted are the ones who can solve the digital barrier.

“It’s even more important now,” he said. “But it has always been important to me given the reality of the professional life they are going to have to lead.”

Eller is thrilled to present not only her choreography but her videography this weekend.

“We filmed from several angles,” said the Salisbury native. “My piece almost mixes a dance film with a real film-spectacle look. “

McDonnell, who dances in two works and choreographs a piece for the show, said the COVID-19 restrictions have also created challenges for staging a show. Masks are a mandatory costume accessory, no more than five dancers share the stage at a time and dancers are not allowed to touch each other.

“We do a lot of partnerships,” she said. “To go from always touching yourself to all of a sudden you have to be social distanced, and then wearing masks makes it a lot more difficult.”

Still, McDonnell is content with the work she and other dancers have managed to create under difficult circumstances.

Dixon thinks the online audience will agree.

“You don’t see the masks; you can’t see the distance, ”he said. “You see beautiful dances, great choreography, and you end up saying, ‘Wow, how they can do this with all these restrictions.’ Art thrives, not just survives.

Group works will air at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and solo performances will air at 7:30 p.m. on Sundays. Both events are free to watch, but reservations are required. Only one reservation is required per device. Visit

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