Dance Division Check-ins Combat COVID Isolation

Division is also showcasing senior dance concert solos online

group of female dancers wearing red on a dark smoky stage

By Julia DePasquale ’20

Schools across the nation that require in-person classes have been forced to adapt to digital formats due to the pandemic. But the SMU Dance Division is taking extra steps to foster a new sense of community among students and faculty during this uncertain time.

When SMU classes first transitioned to online teaching and learning, Christopher Dolder, associate professor and chair of dance, recognized that communication was essential for his students to advance both in and outside of classes. 

After spring break, Dolder implemented a daily check-in initiative that requires each of his students to have a check-in buddy whom they regularly communicate with. This system ensures that dance students have someone to speak to about coping with the pandemic.

“My first goal was to make sure that every single student felt like they had someone, whether that be a resource or a buddy,” Dolder said. “Grades are still going on and emotions get in the way. I wanted to make sure from the top down and bottom up that my students are being observed and cared for.”

Dolder begins each of his technique classes by opening a discussion for students to speak to him and their peers about how they are doing with the online transition. He then provides them with an update on the dance program from the chair’s perspective.

He encourages his faculty to actively remind students to reach out to each other during this uneasy time as well.

“My directive to each and every one of my students and our faculty is, first of all, adjust your expectations of what we should be getting done, and then really take ownership of what we are getting done,” he said. “We aren’t going to have fully complete, live, in-person classes, but as long as we are moving forward, even a little bit, we are advancing students’ education. Parallel to that is to stay emotionally balanced by communicating.”

Adele Carlson, a junior dance and geophysics double major, chose to further Dolder’s initiative. She created a Google Form that enables her peers to reflect on certain aspects of their day during quarantine in a collaborative and secure way.

The form requires that students answer four questions before submission, beginning with their names. If they wish to remain anonymous, they may use a letter or number. 

The second question asks students to identify their mood based on seven options. The last option, titled ‘other,’ allows them to type their own responses. 

The remaining two short-answer questions allow students to expand on the high and low points of their day. 

At the end of the form, there is an optional space for comments, questions, concerns, or anything that students want to let out.

“I started a journal for Lent where I wrote what I was grateful for, what I took for granted, my high and my low every day, and that is where I drew inspiration from,” Carlson said. “I wanted to think of a way for everyone to see each other’s entries, so I decided to do a Google Form.”

Carlson posted the link to this form in the dance department’s GroupMe, a platform that all dance majors are able to access to communicate with each other. She also reminds members of her junior class dance group to complete the form every day at 5 p.m., the time that dance classes normally end.

“It’s nice to know that students are making an effort to stay connected with each other,” Carlson said. “I live alone with my single mom, and she is a healthcare worker so I’m alone most of the day. It’s nice for me to look through all of these too. Even though I can text my group of friends, this form is a bit more personal. Some people say things on here that they wouldn’t just blurt out in a group message...and if I see something while I’m going through the responses, I’ll reach out to them.”

Students who regularly complete the form have found it beneficial as they learn to cope with unprecedented challenges caused by the pandemic.

“I fill it out every day, and it’s been a great way to reflect on the day in a concrete, tangible way,” Caroline Waters, a junior dance and journalism double major, said. “It’s also nice because everyone in our junior class in the department fills it out too, so we can check in with and support each other.”

The Dance Division continues to move forward as well. In addition to beginning the search for the next artist-in-residence in ballet on Zoom, Dolder worked with the capstone faculty on digitizing the senior dance concert.

“Our senior dance concert for the capstone course, which normally takes place in early May, was canceled, and so I agreed with the capstone faculty director Brandi Coleman that we should use the 2020 production budget to hire four videographers to edit our students’ solos,” Dolder said. “Since group works were no longer possible, our student choreographers had to convert their pieces, originally designed to be performed by four to eight dancers, into solo works that they themselves would perform. The editors – one of whom is our theatre alum Ace Anderson – combined video of all the solos into one final package, which is posted online. We’re really just trying to make use of our resources. We’re continuing to move forward to make sure that we are...I don’t like the term surviving, I like to say that we are simply going about our business, but in a more disinclined climate.”