In response to the challenges posed by social distancing and remote learning, several dance groups at Bowdoin—including Polar Bear Swing Dance, VAGUE and Arabesque—have adapted their structures to keep their members socially connected and active.
Polar Bear Swing Dance, led by Sydney Cox ’23 and Zachary Kaplan ’21, has been meeting exclusively over Zoom since last semester. While Cox initially wondered whether swing dance—which typically involves partners—would be compatible with a Zoom format, she was satisfied with the club’s programming last semester.
“Somehow, we actually made it work,” Cox said in a Zoom interview with The Orient. “People were in their living rooms … we would set out our cameras, so it was basically just looking at legs, but it actually worked out pretty well.”
Each week, Cox and Kaplan emailed club members with videos featuring different types of swing dance and skills for their upcoming meeting. During the meetings, the club members began by learning new swing dancing skills and practicing on their own.
“The first part would always just be breaking everything down, going slowly through everything,” Cox said. “ Then, we do a dance period … where we try to combine everything that we’ve learned so far.”
Aside from helping her stay active and make new friends while studying remotely, these online club meetings have allowed Cox to see her true potential as a dance club leader. Had she not been forced to adapt her club in the midst of a pandemic, Cox doubts she would have been as inspired to increase club engagement in the future.
“We were honestly thinking of just not doing anything for the semester … and then I was like, we need to build the foundation for the following year, otherwise the club is going to have a hard time staying up,” Cox said. “Honestly, I don’t know how many ideas I would’ve come up with had I not had to come up with some during the pandemic.”
Although Polar Bear Swing Dance has not yet been able to meet in person this semester, Bowdoin’s ballet group, Arabesque, has begun holding bi-weekly classes in the Buck Center for Health and Fitness. While Arabesque typically designates one of these weekly classes for the club’s smaller performance group, both classes are open to all students this semester, according to leader Isabel Petropoulos ’23.
In an effort to make the club accessible, Arabesque has also added a Zoom component to its meetings. Although those on campus are encouraged to attend the in-person sessions, Petropoulos hopes that the Zoom option will help to include all members in Arabesque meetings.
“We have two options: to teach [dancers] completely in person in Buck—you can come and dance there in person—but then we also acknowledge that sometimes dancing in front of other people can be scary, and sometimes and we want to be as open as possible,” Petropoulos said. “So we’ve added the aspect of recording our classes and broadcasting them on Zoom. You can join on Zoom, turn your camera off and still be part of class.”
Despite missing the performance aspect of Arabesque, Petropoulos has enjoyed watching the club transform into a more inclusive space. Since dancers can now take classes without having to perform in front of others, Petropoulos has noticed an increase in club membership over the past few months.
“I think it’s been a huge positive this year, having it on Zoom,” Petropoulos said. “People who do not have a lot of dance experience [and] who do feel self-conscious are now able to participate and be part of Arabesque.”
VAGUE, Bowdoin’s contemporary and jazz dance club, has also noticed an increase in class attendance since bringing their rehearsals online, according to leader Maggie Burke ’21. Similar to Arabesque, VAGUE eliminated its usual audition process this year, and it is currently welcoming any interested dancers to its bi-weekly classes. While VAGUE operated fully online during the fall semester, it recently began holding on-campus classes.
“In the fall… we just had weekly stretch classes, or yoga sessions, or different cardio or different technique things you can do from your bedroom,” Burke said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “But now we’re actually in person since the majority of our dancers are on campus—but we still have a Zoom option for those who are joining virtually.”
Like Petropoulos, Burke looks forward to performing in the future, but she is grateful that she can dance alongside her fellow VAGUE members this semester. After spending nearly a year apart from her group, Burke believes that in-person rehearsals have been well-missed by many of VAGUE’s members.
“I think that after having such a break from dancing, it really gave a lot of us a newfound appreciation for the art form and just having the space and mobility to move,” Burke said. “I always took dance for granted … I realized that it’s something that really positively affects my mental health and my academics and even my social interactions with people. Having to step away from that for a bit made it all the more incredible when we were able to come back.”
As three dancers with a passion for teaching others, Cox, Petropoulos and Burke encourage anyone, regardless of their dance background or skill level, to get involved with dance at Bowdoin if they are interested.
“I think [Bowdoin dance] is a community and it’s one we’re all very grateful to be a part of,” Burke said. “So any way we could extend that to others and extend the opportunity to move is always really important to us.”