November 17, 2020

Can you teach dance remotely?

Don't try this at home. Rob Kitsos has found ways to teach dance successfully despite the constraints of remote instruction. Photo credit: David Cooper.

What do you do when you teach dance and the studio space is off-limits?

That’s a question Rob Kitsos (professor and associate director, School of Contemporary Arts) has had to confront since the move to remote instruction. His response, in courses like CA 122: Contemporary Dance Technique and CA 285: Interdisciplinary Studio: Composition/Collaboration, has been to seek out the positives of the new reality. 

“For dance technique, it’s a very different approach teaching online. Some of these changes are obviously frustrating—like having enough space for bigger movement and not being able to give immediate feedback to students because of limited visibility. Other aspects of online teaching I see as advantages—like each student being able to have their own focus without the competition or distraction of other people in the room or mirrors. We also seem to have more conversations as students seem to feel more open to speaking on Zoom than in the studio.”

New skills and greater resilience

The past eight months have been a time of enforced adaptation for him.

“I have […] learned to work with and use technology with more confidence and ease. From lecturing, sharing media and sound [to] talking about film and video in the context of making new work and composition.”

The result has been growth for him and his students.

“I think we have gained more resilience in managing a crisis like Covid—how to move forward and continue our practice within the parameters of a pandemic. We have lost our human/live connection when working together in the same space—which is hard—but it has forced us to look for new ways of motivating ourselves.”

Yoga and a generous dose of empathy

He recognizes the efforts of his students in the face of significant obstacles.

“In general, students have been working hard and staying positive. Challenges specific to dance have mostly to do with spaces at home. Many just don't have enough room to work. Others have connection issues.”

When it comes to self-care, Kitsos draws on familiar physical practices.

“Yoga, stretching, walking. My body takes a beating with so many hours online.”

His counsel to teaching colleagues reflects the themes of empathy and flexibility that have become prevalent in learning and teaching discussions since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Stay positive and look for the values in this new context. Be conscientious of how many hours you are asking of your students online. Give them creative ways of working on their own time—and in groups.”

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