Dance Chassés into First Jazz Combo

Before reviewing what they learned the previous class, dancers quickly perform a stretch routine along to one or two songs.

After clearing out garages to find space to dance and submitting video assignments, dancers of all levels are now back in the dance studio. By tradition, they are starting by learning a jazz combination in the first unit.

“We always start with jazz,” dance teacher and VAPA department chair Samantha Gardner said. “I do this intentionally in the hopes to spark my dancers’ interests. Jazz is the perfect in-between of expression and technicality. Then, we move on to ballet to work on foundations, hip-hop in the late fall and wrap up the first semester with some contemporary and modern styles.”

As the dancers learn the jazz combo, Gardner repeatedly reminds them of the rubric and certain key points she will be looking to grade. Like other academic subjects, the rubric for dance assessments is split into specific learning targets such as knowledge of choreography and execution.

“We’re wearing masks, so the audience won’t get to see our facial expression, which is one of the crucial elements in performance qualities,” dance student and senior Joy Choa said. “Instead, we develop other components of performance such as musicality, creativity, strength and level of movement.”

The range of movement for the dancers has become much larger due to social distancing protocols. Black Xs marked in tape are spread in 6-foot intervals in the dance studio, marking a designated spot for each dancer. Gardner has her own area in the front with a stool placed in between herself and the dancers for extra spacing. 

“The half-capacity cohort situation is actually amazing for us,” Gardner said. “The dancers have so much room to move around now, whereas before we would kind of be crowded a lot of the time.”

Now back in the studio, learners are dancing alongside others, preparing for potential upcoming dance concerts, which Gardner hopes to schedule indoors with physical distancing protocols in place. The dance concert is something that motivates dancers to improve and practice.

Just as I am mesmerized by amazing dancers, I want to do the same for other people

— Kate Dang

“Just as I am mesmerized by amazing dancers, I want to do the same for other people,” Dance Company captain and senior Kate Dang said. “Furthermore, I love dancing with a team, because the act of coming together with different talents is so fulfilling.”

Half of a class at a time, dancers learn the ins and outs of the art from technical foundations and expression to self-choreographing. Being in-person, they are able to utilize group movements for a larger visual effect on the audience.

“We come to the studio, see all dancers working hard because we just love dance, and each one of us is part of that vibrant energy. Dance is my pure joy,” Choa said. “Dance is interactive and lively, and as dancers we all get inspiration and motivation from each other. Every dancer is unique, and I love how we can express our creativity through dance.”