Courtesy of Tanvi Yende

Dance has long served as a creative outlet and social space for students on campus. But the pandemic has forced dance teams to find new methods of engaging the dance community. 

This semester, several dance groups have altered their practice schedule. Due to the closure of dance studios and the limited number of students on campus, dance groups have to accommodate virtual or socially distanced forms of practice. Most groups are conducting sessions over Zoom, but some have introduced in-person components. Groups have also cut practice times and launched new initiatives to encourage social connections between team members. 

“I think that it’s less about increasing [social interaction], but more about maintaining it because it’s inevitable that it’s going to decrease or that it’s going to be somewhat difficult to increase member interaction,” said Sebastian Chang ’23, co-captain of Movement. 

Although the virtual transition has allowed dance teams to continue practices, it has been difficult for teams to engage members socially. Members no longer have the opportunity to catch up with each other during breaks or before and after practice. Additionally, groups such as Rhythmic Blue, Yale Taps and Yale Jashan Bhangra have reduced practice times.

“Of course everybody is there to dance and excited to dance, but when I come to [Yale Dancers] class, I’m equally excited for the opportunity to see my friends,” said Faith Tomlin ’22, co-president of Yale Dancers. “Over Zoom we are taking class in our own little virtual boxes, so you don’t really get to interact with any other company members.”

Tomin added that it is impossible to interact with members, exchange feedback, hype people up or ask questions while learning choreography. For this reason, Rhythmic Blue, Yale Dancers and Yale Taps chose to introduce an optional in-person practice session every week at the Beinecke plaza.

There, the teams must dance on concrete. To combat that problem, Taps has begun using portable wooden tap floors to allow outdoor practices. 

“Group participation has increased this year for our weekly group classes just because it’s a way of socializing with each other in a safe way while also being able to pursue our passions together,” said Gabrielle Niederhoffer ’23, a co-president of Taps.

To allow current team members to maintain connections with one another and for new members to build connections, dance groups have created innovative programs and bonding activities. 

Jashan Bhangra chose to continue with tap night traditions over Zoom. Team members taught initiates bhangra moves. Captains Ameena Kapadia ’23 and Neeha Kothapalli ’22 created YJB families to help current members get to know the 17 new taps. They also assign tasks to members, including changing Facebook profile photos to a bhangra pose or playing virtual Pictionary games.

Rhythmic Blue has a similar system of families, “RBuddies,” where grouped members can get together to take a dance class or talk over a meal. The dance group also plans to introduce open workshops, where a team member teaches a dance that anyone can participate in. The group hopes to expand social connections with the rest of the Yale community through dance.

“We had our first workshop where [a student] taught a piece that she has been working on,” said Ke’ala Akau ’22, co-president of Rhythmic Blue. “It was really fun to see people all across the country joining in on this dance.”

Even though Yale Dancers usually conducts tap night with both old and new members, they opted for an in-person scavenger hunt for their six new first years this year. The group has also had alumni members come and teach over Zoom. 

Movement hosted a jeopardy competition, where members were divided into teams with the opportunity to win prizes. They included questions about their seven new members in the game. In general, the group has game and movie nights on a weekly basis. Members use an app called Steezy — a dance app that allows people to attend dance classes together — to replicate the in-person dance experience.

Taps has had outdoor bonding activities, including a Pilates class and picnic for new members. They hope to invite professional tap dancers to teach techniques to group members virtually each month.

Even with the pandemic, all dance groups are using practices to film a final performance video at the end of the semester. Teams like Movement hope these new bonding activities will continue to take place when they resume in-person practices. 

“[The pandemic] has forced us to be more creative, in terms of coming up with these initiatives and I feel like the legacy of this coming into the future will be that these events will continue to exist but in the actual form,” Chang said. “All these great ideas will be better and in person.”

Rhythmic Blue will have its next open dance workshop on Nov. 15. 

Sanchita Kedia | sanchita.kedia@yale.edu