Mixed reactions to dance

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

Several clubs at the University of Dallas are dedicated to the art of dancing. Students in recent years have demonstrated both casual and polished skills in ballet, tap, lyrical, jazz, Irish, swing, and ballroom styles. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, dance enthusiasts have had to readjust their hobbies as they navigate the new regulations.

For Meg Crawford, a senior English major, the change has affected her experience as both a tap teacher and ballet dancer at Baila Irving Performing Arts Academy. 

“Unfortunately, even one of my greatest joys, teaching, has become rife with irritation,” said Crawford. “A major problem for all teachers with masking is that because students can’t see your lips, they get distracted more often…. even when you’re looking them in the eye!”

Crawford said that she did not find dancing in a mask particularly difficult. “The worst part is after you’re done doing your piece and trying to regulate your breathing through a mask that directly tries to inhibit that task. Many of us move away from others to a corner and take it off until we can breathe normally.”

Crawford joked that the pain of pointe work proves a “great distraction” from masking.

Many on-campus clubs have successfully managed to navigate UD regulations, albeit with some adjustments. Most styles of group dancing utilize proximity in order to showcase the fluid connection between individual dancers. The combination of space limitations and social distancing requirements can prove difficult to navigate. 

Seniors Victoria Herrara and M-C Scarlett, respective leaders of the Lyrical Dance Ensemble and the Irish dancers, initially found these restrictions challenging.

“Since the Jerome basement is full of furniture that was removed to accommodate social distancing, there is less room for us to practice,” says Herrara.

The senior ceramics major expressed gratitude that her Lyrical team can dance at all this semester, noting that the UD administration could have denied them this opportunity. She attributed this to their small group size. 

“Now more than ever, lyrical has been a great escape, even though we still have to wear masks and social distance,” Herrara said. “We are all just happy to be dancing!”

After initially attending over Zoom, Scarlett returned to in-person dance classes in a masked, socially distanced format. “While challenging with a non-air-conditioned studio over the summer, it was well worth the discomfort to return to the dance that’s been a constant in my life for 12 years.”

Scarlett was also grateful that her team could return to dancing this semester, calling Irish dancing an “irreplaceable” part of her life. 

“The rhythms, tunes and elaborate yet precise movements are what always draws me back,” she said. “As a club, we are still figuring out how to hold a performance and create choreography without holding hands and with social distancing, but we have some fun, creative ideas in the works that we look forward to developing.”

Unfortunately, not all dancing managed to survive the new safety regulations. Prior to the semester, the UD Swing Club was notified by Residence Coordinator Sarah Baker that partner dancing would not be possible due to the social distancing restrictions. This message was a significant blow to many involved in the UD Swing Club, including myself.

Michael Jurkoic, a senior computer science major and president of Swing Club, expressed a social loss in the absence of the usual Wednesday Swing Nights. “The restrictions on club activities are making it much harder for dancers to connect. Especially for freshmen who want to get involved, or who might just want to try it out, there’s a major missed opportunity to meet and socialize with upperclassmen who share the same interests.”

Jurkoic noted that the club traditionally brings together students of all levels, remembering his own experience as a freshman. “It’s sad that we don’t have that this semester,” he said.

Jurkoic is not alone in his reflections on how this affects connections between the classes.

“Before college, I hated dancing,” said Mary Grace Urbanczyk, sophomore English major.

“Thanks to UD’s Swing Club, I fell in love with dancing and made it a priority in my life.”

Urbanczyk became the Swing Club secretary last semester and thoroughly enjoys teaching her peers to dance. She understands the current restrictions but Urbanzcyk regrets losing the imitable social atmosphere. “People come to Swing [Club] to learn a skill, to spend time with friends, and to experience a unique environment that isn’t found at most other social events,” she said.

Likening swing to a step back in time, Urbancyzk expressed hope that freshmen will have a chance to experience the club next semester. “You will find me slightly sad on Wednesday nights,” she said, “because I can’t go to swing to take my mind off my studies.”

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