UMD performance, arts students adapt to online learning — without a stage or dance studio

The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. (Evan Kramer/The Diamondback)

It took a few days for Gabriela Grant to realize that life would eventually return to normal. Every day felt the same. She woke up and felt drained, finding herself stuck in a cycle.

It’s what quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic will do to you, she said. But once she started dancing again, she felt liberated — at least a little bit — from the chaos.

“Once I started, like, to get up and move I was like, ‘Man, like, just feels so good,’” the senior dance major said.

Dancing again during the pandemic reminded Grant of its therapeutic quality. It keeps her grounded, she said, especially during the turbulent transition to online classes.

For some courses, the shift to the online environment meant that classroom lectures would become Zoom lectures. But for performance and art classes, the change can be more challenging, as students are left without familiar elements, like dance studios, easels and in-person creative collaboration.

Before the transition online, Grant’s modern dance class, DANC448, took place in a studio at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. The room had high ceilings, and the sound of the accompanist traveled nicely through the space, she said. The floor was sprung, which protected her shins from impact when she landed.

It’s a stark contrast from her living room in Courtyards. As she practiced in her apartment, her living room felt smaller. She followed the dance practices that her professor sent to the class, running into the light and the fan in the process.

[Read more: After move online, UMD students and professors struggle to replicate hands-on lab courses]

But now, her latest studio is the parking lot near Xfinity Center, which now has no cars. Originally, she was apprehensive of the idea of dancing outside, especially alone — but while it is not ideal, she said, it is a better alternative to practicing at home.

“I still felt like I had little bit of privacy,” Grant said. “But I have more space to dance.”

The class, which would meet three times a day for almost two hours, is not meeting on Zoom. In addition to sending links to dance practices, the professor is also sending her class tips on how to maintain physical strength. But students are not required to continue practicing the routine they learned in class before the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some students just don’t have access to dance in a mildly open space,” Grant said. “So, it’s kind of now up to us to be accountable for, like, physical movement practice.”

For Grant, one of the most upsetting factors of the online classes is that she won’t be able to dance with her peers again or see her professor, who she considers a mentor.

“Anyone, like, in the dance and theater department can agree in that we really, really did function like a family,” Grant said.

Lucy Taylor, a senior theatre major, was planning on visiting her professors one last time before graduation. She said that it was “devastating” to miss out on a traditional senior year, but she’s coping with the sudden changes by trying to be creative. It is really hard, she said, as many are struggling with their mental health amid the pandemic.

Taylor created a presentation on the five stages of grief, after a professor asked her to make a video to present to students in another class who might be anxious about classes going online. After acting out denial, anger, bargaining and depression, she moved on to acceptance.

“We can and will practice our craft,” Taylor wrote in the video.

And in her own life, she has accepted her new reality, too. In her theatre classes, she’s trying her best to keep learning and performing.

In TDPS458C, which covers advanced performing art, the class is working on a movement piece. Each student had to choose a different word or emotion and build an environment in their Zoom box that represented that word, Taylor said. Her word is shame, so she said she’s thinking about working on something with a “swampy vibe.”

[Read more: “In God’s hands”: How UMD’s religious communities are keeping the faith amid the pandemic]

The class will present their final projects in a livestream — but it doesn’t compare to a live audience. A Zoom performance greatly lowers the stakes, she said.

“We’re still gonna, you know, do what we need to do,” Taylor said. “[But] it can’t be the same.”

For Taylor, it’s harder to remain focused on her theatre classes — if she wants to, she can just turn off her camera and mute herself. She doesn’t have to be present.

Art classes also look different, as courses lose an element of in-person input and real time observation, said Patrick Craig, a professor in the art department.

In the beginning of the semester, Craig and his assistant would stroll around the bright, skylit classroom to look at their students’ canvases and make observations to improve their work.

Students stood by easels — since Craig advised students not to sit, as it would limit their body movements.

“That’s the big component that is missing,” Craig, who teaches Advanced Painting and Elements of Drawing for Non-Majors, said. “That’s not easy to replicate.”

Now, he is trying to keep working with each student individually. For one of his classes, students will be transforming photos into drawings. Students will choose three photographs and send them to him so that he can manipulate the photos on Photoshop, Craig said. Then, he will send the photoshopped version to students so they can draw it.

Craig is also attempting to hold weekly Zoom conferences, but those aren’t required. He said he was directed not to do so since some students don’t have the resources to join these sessions.

For his painting classes, he advised students to use a 30×40 canvas. But now, he is advising students to put canvas together or simply work on a smaller scale. It’s a time to be flexible with the material, he said.

“I simply want them to keep painting,” Craig said.

The largest issue for art and performance students right now, Craig said, is adapting to the home environment.

“They have to figure out, you know, just the basics of how they’re going to, you know, contain, whatever the practical aspects are or whatever medium they’re working in,” Craig said. “The other hurdle I think frankly is motivation … you really need to be a little passionate about this too in order to stay consistent with it.”

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