Courtesy of Daniel Guerra

Since Danceworks cannot hold in-person rehearsals this fall, it has transitioned to remote operations. But the group hopes to preserve its regular agenda and reinforce community spirit.

Danceworks is Yale’s largest non-audition dance group. Even as the group goes virtual, it is conducting weekly dance rehearsals for Yale students. These will culminate in a final video performance at the end of the semester.

“Of course, it’s not the same to dance over Zoom,” said Sarah McKinnis ’22, social co-chair of Danceworks. “What everyone loves so much about Danceworks is the atmosphere and the energy of cheering on and supporting each other, which we can’t totally replicate online.”

Before the pandemic, the groups organized 16 to 20 dances every semester. The group had around 200 active members, and each dance featured up to 25 people.

This fall Danceworks has choreographed around five semester dances with a maximum of 20 people each. Students involved meet virtually each week. The group’s active membership scaled down to fewer than 100 students.

“The hard part is the motivation,” Yassi Xiong ’22, co-president of Danceworks, said. “It gets especially tricky considering that so many people come from different time zones or might not even have enough space to dance in their dorm rooms or houses.”

Still, Tadea Martin-Gonzalez ’24, who joined Danceworks this fall, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to continue to engage with the art, especially during a pandemic. She noted that dancing is a great way to “decompress” from virtual classes.

“[The rehearsals] are providing the framework for relationships that are going to form as soon as we are able to meet in person,” Martin-Gonzalez added.

But the transition to remote operations brings its own challenges. The group had to increase efforts to recruit and support choreographers, who were unaccustomed to Zoom adaptations of their routines. The availability of practice spaces has also been an issue, since students don’t have large spaces in which they can dance at home. Choreographers are trying to adapt their routines to smaller spaces.

Additionally, dancers must navigate learning choreography in a virtual environment.  Martin-Gonzalez said learning on Zoom introduces several challenges — such as figuring out how to correctly imitate movements on screen, since Zoom sometimes automatically mirrors a participant’s video feed.

Yet Danceworks board members are finding creative ways to build community by creating new programs that increase accessibility to dance-related activities.

“We’re definitely trying to add more avenues for engagement this semester,” said Edie Abraham-Macht ’22, the co-choreographer liaison at Danceworks. “It’s been cool to have a more multifaceted menu of what Danceworks can offer.”

In previous years, Danceworks only choreographed semester dances and a final show. This fall, it has expanded its programming to include one-time workshops taught by professional guest choreographers such as Taryn Cheng, an online dance subscription with STEEZY Studio, a buddy system and social events that include game nights and Netflix parties.

“I think it’s been, surprisingly, a really great moment of community,” said Abraham-Macht. “Just being able to gather a group of people and dance together; it’s really nice to see that people are still invested in Danceworks and still want to come together and have that community.”

Danceworks plans to utilize YouTube, TikTok and Instagram stories to connect with the public. At the end of the semester, the group will create a final performance video showcasing routines from this semester.

Tania Tsunik | tania.tsunik@yale.edu

Dominique Castanheira | dominique.castanheira@yale.edu