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News

Published:

May 4, 2020
 

Dancing in Two Dimensions: Teaching Dance Online


Orion Duckstein, associate professor and chair of the Department of Dance, took classes online when the coronavirus closed campus. See how it went by watching this video from his Modern 1 class.

Dance is a physical art, one practiced across space as a dancer leaps, turns and interacts with other dancers to musical accompaniment. In dance classes, the instructor demonstrates steps, observes from different vantage points and applies corrections to the students.

The COVID-19 virus changed all that. At Adelphi’s Department of Dance, faculty members have met the new challenge by moving classes online, learning new technology, and working out how to handle limited space and what to do when pets decide to participate.

“It’s a Band-Aid solution, and far from a substitute for real classes, but under the circumstances, it’s the best solution,” said Orion Duckstein, associate professor and chair of the Department of Dance. “Students agree that we have been able to help them the do best work under the circumstances.”

Duckstein shared how the dance program is moving forward and how one can find artistic inspiration from unusual circumstances. (Check out Paul Taylor’s Cloven Kingdom, reimagined as Cloven Kingdom in the Kitchen.)

How did you prepare to transition to teaching online?

Our faculty met on Zoom on Wednesday, March 11, and held our first practice session on Friday, March 13—before spring break! Several students and faculty attended and we compared notes and offered constructive criticism about teaching remotely—mainly, where to stand for maximum clarity when demonstrating and how to integrate music. We noticed that keeping exercises simpler and slowing down some tempos was best for dancers to learn, and we modified class structure to support better assimilation.

How do you give students corrections?

We ask the students to wear tight clothing so we can see and correct their alignment. Every teacher tries to give each student at least one individual correction every class. In my modern dance class, I give each student something separate, but also pick one or two movements for individual corrections down the line. I applaud my students for their eagerness and willingness to apply themselves like this.

How have you adapted to students dancing in what are often small spaces in their homes, such as bedrooms, living rooms and basements?

Space is a huge concern. We usually end our dance classes with huge phrases that travel and fly around the room, often in complex patterns. I still make combinations that challenge the students to work to full physicality, so it can take three to four hours to make one 90-minute class specially made for small spaces. Even though I teach from my basement, I [create] most of my classes in my kitchen, which is small, so I am prepared for the students who do not have much room and can give modifications as I teach, rather than having to adapt on the fly and waste class time for my students.

Dancers at Adelphi are usually accompanied by live rather than recorded music, a luxury many other institutions don’t offer. How have you worked with the musicians to handle this online?

I worked with each of our musicians to help them find a good setup. Doug Schultz and Loretta Ping place their laptop/tablets on top of pianos in their homes, though I would like to send them a USB mic for better sound. Our percussionist, Katie Pearlman, plays percussion and guitar that’s picked up by a microphone that connects to her computer. Carson Moody does something similar, though with a slightly different setup. Tom Farrell plays an electronic keyboard that goes through sophisticated software on his computer.

In the video of a class, I notice some cameos from pets.

Yes, sometimes they block the camera. [However,] Troy Ogilvie has adapted her Dance Improvisation [class] to incorporate the pets when they show up, as well as objects like tables, beds and chairs.

There’s a video of you demonstrating a move outside. Do you plan to move classes outside in the future?

My plan is to get my students outside by developing and recording some of my larger movement phrases and posting them to Adelphi’s online learning platform, Moodle, so they can learn and try them on their own time, in a yard or a park.

 

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