Twelve months ago, when we entered the first lockdown in Bangalore, we as classical dance teachers could never have imagined teaching our art on an online platform. The idea would have seemed crazy and a lack of students in the studio would have cast a shadow over our way of teaching.
Now, a year on, we are still teaching online and have learned a lot along the way. From keeping up with fast technical advances in online teaching platforms to creating new ways to keep students inspired and engaged, there is no end to the learning curve. We have grappled with students’ slow connectivity, broken cameras and easily distracted children in their homes.
So, what is the takeaway from this ongoing experience? For us, it is one of possibility and infinite learning. The pandemic has been the catalyst for us to step into a new way of teaching and learning. When we return to in-studio classes, it will be with new ideas and a strengthened belief in the importance of dance in education.
Working with new technology was one of our initial hurdles. Recorded classes took a lot of time to record and edit, and live online classes turned our view of teaching upside down. Not only did we have to focus on the students’ technique and performance, but we had to make sure all students were on screen, audio and video settings were set up correctly, and that every demonstration and instruction was seen and well heard. Although these aspects now seem like second nature, it took some time to get used to. We also have our administrative team in constant attendance in every class ensuring the safety and security of our students.
There was also a kind of uncertainty that crept in during the initial months of lockdown. We were expecting to see the students back within weeks. Weeks extended to months, and then into a full year. In any classroom, the students bring an energy and a presence to the teaching. It felt as though this would be missing without the physical presence of our dancers. We quickly realized that we as teachers have to continue to carry that energy and translate it across the screens. That presence is so important to keep the students engaged and inspired.
The third obstacle we faced was maintaining focus in the classes, especially for the younger students. Distractions at home are endless; meals, friends playing outside or a sibling can all sidetrack a student from the class. We have come up with many ways to maintain the focus of the class, including the use of props using materials that students will find in their homes, toys, and costumes. Stories, games and rhymes have always been part of our repertoire, but we upped the level of engagement for our students online.
A beach theme that we use in our regular classes was developed into a beach party during the early days of lockdown. Since travel was limited and students spent their summer holidays in their homes, we brought the holiday destination to them. Students wore their swimming costumes and brought their sunglasses, buckets, spades, and shells to the party. We had as much fun as the children.
The Bright Times
Amid the struggle and disbelief at the situation, we have experienced some incredible times, too.
Our induction programme has been a big success. Seeing new students introduced and thriving at the school has brought hope and belief that where there is passion and will, there is a way. With specialized classes for students who have not yet experienced the in-studio setting, we have been able to bring them the joy of classical ballet to our youngest beginners online.
Students have progressed as expected. Many have moved to higher grades as usual. Even though all our assessments were done by a video submissions this time, we were extremely happy being able to see each student individually in their assessment. Their achievements are a testament to their love for dance, and to what is possible even under the strangest of circumstances.
There have been perks to teaching through the online medium, too. We have been able to share videos and pictures with students during the classes. This helps in showing technical detail. Students are usually able to observe and learn from each other in the studio, and we are able to incorporate this style of teaching with the use of spotlight tools online.
Our Christmas classes were a blast, with students showing up for class in amazing, imaginative costumes inspired by the holiday season. It was such a joy to see our dance community showing its true inspired self.
We are currently planning our performances for this year. They will likely look very different to our usual shows. We see it as yet another opportunity to expand our vision of classical ballet and the ways it is taught and showcased.