What it’s like taking Temple music, dance classes right now

Hands-on corrections are not permitted and dancers are learning video editing skills.

Senior dance major, Hannah Borczon, practices dance choreography at Conwell Dance Theater on Feb. 25th. | ISAAC SHEIN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Every Monday at 1 p.m., Hannah Borczon begins stretching and practicing poses within the confines of taped floor markings, preparing for the start of her hybrid Contemporary Dance Practices: Contemporary Matters in African Diasporic Dance class in Conwell Hall.

She’s joined by three students in person and seven students virtually on Zoom, mirroring her professor’s movements from the comfort of their homes.

“It’s not what we’re all used to for sure, but we’re lucky to be here,” said Borczon, a senior dance major.

Students in Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance adapted to the challenge of adhering to COVID-19 precautions that have changed their traditional experiences of rehearsing and performing in large groups. Many have upended their routines and learned new habits in returning to the altered classroom. 

Along with other classes at Temple, some dance classes, music ensembles and some choral classes at Boyer are operating in person this spring in compliance with Temple’s four public health pillars: hand hygiene, physical distancing, health monitoring and face coverings.

As of March 11, there are 108 active cases of COVID-19 among Temple students and employees.

Roughly 1,351 per 10,000 residents in 19121 ZIP code and 1,223 per 10,000 in 19122 have been vaccinated for COVID-19 as of March 11, The Temple News reported.

Teaching and learning music and dance present a unique challenge amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Dancing, along with other forms of exercise, can spread COVID-19 through respiratory droplets, according to an August 2020 report cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Singing can produce a “substantially larger” number of respiratory droplets than talking, increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19 among groups of vocalists, an August 2020 study found.

In-person dance classes are not mandatory, and students can opt to take the classes virtually, said Karen Bond, chair of the dance department.

Dancers in studios in Conwell Dance Theater and Pearson Hall must wear masks and are separated with taped floor markings by 12 feet and given 144 square feet of space, Bond said. Studios are also sanitized between classes, she added.

To allow music ensembles to rehearse and perform safely, Boyer used the results of a University of Colorado Boulder study on the spread of aerosols during musical performance, said David Brown, assistant dean for administrative affairs. 

The study encouraged performers to use bell covers and plexiglass barriers to prevent the spread of droplets. Bell covers are attached to the ends of wind and brass instruments while plexiglass barriers separate students to shield droplets.

“Everybody is performing at least seven feet from the next person,” Brown said. “The plexiglass barriers are set up especially for the wind and brass players because they have to play without masks on and the barriers are designed to capture the long aerosol droplets.”

Borczon feels it’s been a different experience for dancers to practice while adhering to the need to be safe, she said.

“We’re used to rolling all over the floor, throwing ourselves around and exercising the entire time we’re in class but now there’s something else we need to be mindful of,” Borczon said.

Boyer’s dance department had more students taking in-person classes in the spring than in the fall, and Bond believes students and instructors are becoming more comfortable with the COVID-19 protocols, she said. 

“They’re becoming less anxious about coming over time so we’re happy about that,” she added.

Ashleigh Budlong, a sophomore music education major and member of the Temple University Symphony Orchestra, sanitizes her equipment and takes breaks every 30 minutes to allow for air circulation during her rehearsals at Temple Performing Arts Center.  Since she plays double bass and not on a wind instrument, she can keep her mask on while playing, she said.

“Since there are so many institutions right now that aren’t able to make live music, I feel like my gratefulness for the opportunity outweighs the challenges,” Budlong said. “We’re just lucky to be around people in person and make music.”

Laura Katz Rizzo, a dance professor, feels safe teaching her in-person Ballet I and Ballet Technique IV classes, given Boyer’s efforts to enforce social distancing in studios.

Katz Rizzo reminds her students of the importance of safety measures and tells them to speak up if they feel unsafe, she said.

“I’m somewhat militant about those four pillars of public health,” Katz Rizzo said. “I really don’t want to make choices for other people, so if there’s anything that doesn’t feel comfortable for them, I want them to let me know.” 

Hands-on corrections, where professors give feedback on dance poses by physically touching dancers, are not permitted, so Katz Rizzo has found ways to communicate bodily adjustments to her students, she said. 

Borczon has noticed her professors being more detailed and elaborate in explaining dances now too, she said.

“They’ll be like, ‘Oh, touch your spine this way rather than this way,’ or, ‘Think of a string with a weight at the end of it,’” she added.

Borczon’s classes also use projectors so students who opted to take the class online can participate virtually. With her instructor on Zoom and the teaching assistant in person, it can be tricky to know how to perform the right combinations, she said.

“Most Zoom classes aren’t set up for mirror imaging,” Borczon said. “Even though my teacher is demonstrating to the right side, on Zoom it looks like it’s being demonstrated on the left, so it’s a new type of learning for everyone’s brains.”

Additionally, her small apartment space presents a challenge, she said. 

“We do a lot of movements going from one side of the room to another and I can’t do that right now, so I’m not at my peak physically at all,” Borczon added.

Virtual concerts have replaced in-person performances at Boyer as events are live-streamed from the Temple Center for Performing Arts on On The Stage, a website that sells tickets and live streams virtual events.

Moving away from in-person events allows more students and audience members to get involved at virtual concerts, Bond said. 

“Dance will look different in the future, whether it’s the optics and how we train students,” she added.

Borczon learned how to use Adobe Premiere Pro to edit her senior recital now that she can’t perform it in person, she said.

“Very few of us have had solid film experience and we’re all having to think like filmmakers now as well as choreographers in order to do these pieces,” Borczon said.

Budlong is optimistic about the future and feels that musicians will find ways to adjust, but hopes for a return to normalcy soon.

“The pandemic has proven how much people rely on the arts and that we can adapt to a virtual lifestyle,” she said. “I think that post-college, we’re all hopeful that we can share our talents and passions with people in person again.”

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