Dance teams take their practices, performances online

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Courtesy of Pitt Irish Dance

The Pitt Irish Dance Team poses at the inter-collegiate competition at Villanova in 2018.

By Rashi Ranjan, Staff Writer

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Pitt’s Irish dance club could be found every Monday night practicing in the Pete. But this year, Mary Grace Mooney, the president of the team, said the timed jumps and leaps will have to be done within the walls of dorm rooms, apartments and parking lots.

“We know we aren’t going to be able to do the usual hand-holding and team dancing, but we’ll try to adjust to socially distanced practices,” Mooney, a junior civil engineering major, said. “A lot of it will be spent doing prep work, like getting new costumes, so we can hit the ground running when we are in-person.”

Pitt’s dance clubs — including the Irish or Rince na gCathrach Cruach dance team — are finding alternative ways to practice and present their work, without much concrete knowledge for what the semester will hold. Student Affairs Spokesperson Janine Fisher said the Student Organization Resource Center hasn’t officially released any guidelines to dance teams yet.

“We are still working closely with the dance clubs to coordinate their activities this semester in accordance with the University’s safety guidelines,” Fisher said. 

However, clubs have been working throughout the summer to prepare for the possibility of an all-virtual fall season. Kayla Miller, president of the Ya’baso Dance Team, said she has spent the summer planning ways to continue spreading her African dance team’s culture. 

“We recorded a promotional video, filming separately and collaborating on the choreography,” Miller, a senior microbiology and Africana studies major, said. “We also held tryouts virtually by teaching them some choreography over Zoom and having them send us a video performing the choreography.”

Miller said she is waiting for Sept. 14, the day in-person classes were set to start, to learn more about making reservations for on-campus rooms. She said she is unsure whether her team will choose to practice in-person, but they will make sure safety protocols are followed. 

“We’re unsure how long the approval process will take even if we do choose to book rooms,” Miller said. “For practice, we’ll have to apply seven days ahead of time. For an event, we’ll have to apply 21 days before the event.”

Emily Duque, the president of Ballet Club at Pitt, is receiving notice of cancellations for the studios where her team usually practices at the William Pitt Union. She said many of her outstanding reservations have been canceled, but she is still unsure about others

“The William Pitt Union has been a little delayed in giving us information about maximum capacity and other logistics,” Duque, a junior math and music major said. “As of right now, we might have one rehearsal space per week in person, but we’re not sure if we’ll be able to use that yet.”

Jothika Gorur, co-captain of Nrityamala — Pitt’s Indian classical dance team — said even before hearing from SORC, she was thinking about how it would be possible to dance online for the semester.

“Since we knew Pitt was hybrid, we thought maybe there would be a chance for in-person practices, but it was always tentative,” Gorur, a junior sociology major, said. “We decided to take our meetings, practices and overall coordination of our team completely virtual for the fall semester.”

Nithya Kasibhatla, fellow co-captain of Nrityamala, said she is looking forward to the virtual practices.

“We have time slots so we can adjust to different schedules,” Kasibhatla, a junior English writing and neuroscience major, said. “We’re also having smaller practices to really focus on the individual dancer’s needs, and so we don’t have tens of screens side by side.”

Though teams have found a way to move practices and coordination online, competitions are a different story. Pitt’s teams travel nationwide for intercollegiate competitions throughout the year, but due to the pandemic, many of these competitions have been canceled or have drastically reduced capacity. 

Pitt’s Irish dance team’s main event includes a competition at Villanova University in November, which has already been canceled. Mooney said she is still optimistic for an enjoyable season.

“Even though we don’t have any competitions to prepare for at the moment, we’re still going to have social meetings and dance drills to work out together,” Mooney said. 

Recruiting new members has been a new challenge for many of the teams as well. Gorur said Nrityamala spent more time than ever spreading the word about the club, reaching out to former alumni and making use of all their social media accounts. She said these efforts fortunately resulted in more people auditioning for the team this year than last year.

“We made a video for Global Hub, which included a lot of information about our organization,” Gorur said. “We also made flyers, broadcasted our interest forms and had a presentation at the South Asian Activities Fair.” 

Kasibhatla said the team also changed their audition process. Instead of teaching prospective team members a piece, members were told to perform something they were already comfortable with as well as show the nine expressions in classical dance.

Miller said she will make the most out of this unusual year. She said this year is more about sharing their passion than performing for an audience.

“In our tryouts, we just looked for people who showed their personality and were willing to put in the effort,” Miller said. “Usually our goal is to spread the cultural awareness, but this year it has shifted to sharing our love of dance and enjoying that, even from a distance.”

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