Middlesex College’s dance program is continuing to adjust to virtual classes via Zoom during the spring semester as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues.
Aimee Mitacchione, Middlesex College dance professor, said that running dance classes via Zoom has been surprisingly manageable.
“I’m dancing in my living room on my carpeting, so that’s not really ideal, and I’m sure you know the students are dancing between two pieces of furniture. They don’t have a lot of room, but we’re learning how to (manage),” Mitacchione said.
“Dancers learn all different things,” she said. “And one of them is that we’re always thinking about dancing big and covering as much space as possible and running or leaping from one side of the floor to the other. We will now get the chance to investigate things like gesture and smaller movements that are more inward toward the body or even just focusing on the self and not being so out and aware of everybody else. Sometimes, it’s really good to hone in on what you are doing and thinking and feeling. You really get a chance to do that when you’re by yourself in your room, even if you’re in a classroom of people on Zoom.”
Mitacchione also said that she had discovered some new technological advancements to make it easier for her to teach remotely.
“The biggest issue for dance educators, I think we’ve found, is sound,” she said.
To combat this, Mitacchione said she bought two different microphones: a USB microphone and a clip-on mic.
“These microphones have been suggestions from other professors, and I found that these really work very well. So, I have an external speaker that I play my music from Spotify on my phone. Then this microphone (the clip-on microphone) picks up my voice that much easier. If I didn’t have the microphone on, my voice would fight the music for sound. Often, when I first started teaching without the mic, and I watched the Zoom recording back, you could hardly hear me talking at all. It really was not conducive to learning…so this really helped,” she said.
Mitacchione also said that she had issues teaching virtually at first because Zoom has a mirror view.
She said, “On Zoom when you move your right hand, everybody thinks it’s your left hand. So as a teacher, if I was moving the right side of my body, and I knew it was the dancer’s left, I would have to say the opposite of what I was doing all the time. That gets really challenging when you’re doing very complex movement combinations.”
“So, I found an app that’s very similar to Snapchat called Snapcamera. I downloaded Snapcamera into my computer, and there’s a filter called selfie flip that automatically reverses all the movements for you,” Mitacchione said.
Although Mitacchione has been adapting to virtual learning, there are several aspects of in-person teaching she says she misses.
“I think the other major challenge is not being able to see students really well and feel each other’s energy,” she said, “That was the biggest comment I got from students is that when we’re in a dance class together there’s a certain buzz, there’s a certain vibe, where everyone can feel each other’s energy.”
Mitacchione said that now students can’t follow the person next to them to understand the movements better. She said virtual classes also make it harder for her to make tailored corrections.
However, Mitacchione said that she was happy students could easily access lesson recordings.
Middlesex College student, Gina Santorella, said, “In my opinion, remote dance classes are definitely something dancers are trying to adapt to. It is a struggle working remotely when it comes to dance because you don’t have the same energy filling the room. You are alone in your own little space trying to give energy through a computer screen.”
“I certainly miss in-person dance classes, for sure,” she said, “But this is something that we can all learn from and is keeping us doing what we love to do, dance together but apart.”
Santorella said she liked having access to class recordings and noted that she had no issues hearing her professor or the music during class.
Mitacchione said she encourages students to take dance classes right now.
She said, “There is, I think, a little less pressure to be perfect (in virtual classes). Sometimes I think people, when they take a dance class, think ‘Oh, I’m not good enough to be in this class’…But in this environment, because we are so separated from each other, I feel like there might be even some safety in being removed because there’s less pressure.”