My last class at Yale took place from behind my computer screen. It was Thursday afternoon, time for Dance Theater, a part studio, part theory class taught by the caring and accomplished Iréne Hultman Monti.
Dance Theater is not your average course. Before we moved online, a typical session could include hour-long partner improvisations, a shockingly intimate act for two strangers. Other days, we did group trust exercises, had visiting artists lead movement sequences and played games of chance. Dance Theater, as my classmates repeatedly mentioned throughout our last class, was about exploration. Many of us had little to no dance experience. We showed up, donning sweatpants and baggy shirts, and followed instructions such as “pay attention to your insides.”
Zoom classrooms can be a challenge, especially when they’re unpredictable dance classes. The audio doesn’t work right; the connection cuts out just as someone makes an important point; there is a lull in lecture; the temptation to open a new tab is unbearable. After weeks of having a short warmup into our webcams as our only movement practice, we met for our last class — a Zoom dance party. I found myself once again unsure what to expect.
Our chat window buzzed with banter as one of our talented classmates pulled up his DJ setup. He sampled other students who were playing instruments, reciting foundational tenets of the class (“Trust the floor!”) and rapping on the fly. We spun songs through computer screens and grooved along, together and apart. It felt beautiful, it felt immediate. It felt real.
Seeing everyone getting down in front of their cameras — something I would never have imagined myself having the confidence to do — I felt present. Present, even though I was miles away from the other 20 people on my screen and had been since early March.
In some ways, online classes have been a chance to reflect on what learning can offer us and what classrooms should look like. Without the pressure or incentive of grades, what keeps students motivated and coming back? What should classes offer their students to hold onto as we move into uncertain times and, for seniors, into “the real world”?
The clearest answer that I can offer is community. Dance Theater was such a success not only because it was taught by an excellent professor, but also because it took collaboration, investigation and openness as its core tenets. It successfully fostered something larger than just a course, something I am so grateful for whenever I find it at Yale — a sense of being part of a community, invested in passion and committed to exploration.
Even before COVID-19, it was understood in Dance Theater that your person came first. It was a no-judgment, positive space. Everyone was there because they wanted to be there. When people were not able to attend, that was their own business. In this way, the transition to e-learning did little to complicate the class’ core foundation: Dance Theater was never just about a grade. And so students continued to show up when they could, not just for the class, but to check in on each other and to be part of something larger.
Signing off of Zoom last week in my other lectures, I was moved by everyone coming together to say thank you. In my architecture class, the process lasted almost a full minute as people went one after another. “It’s so nice to hear all of your voices,” our professor smiled. A day later, I experienced the same thing as the remaining handful of students in a live lecture thanked my physics professor for his time.
The epitome of this, of course, was Dance Theater. As I closed my computer, I felt the familiar joy of having danced in a group — something I had missed since the class had gone virtual. It was a sweet and complex ending as we each went around and reflected on takeaways from the class before putting on our dance shoes.
I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I will never be returning to Yale in the same way as I have before, and on some level, no one will. But on Monday, I hope our virtual gathering will allow us to come together and celebrate the experience of being part of Yale and its many communities.
Soledad Tejada is a graduating senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org