Students 'Gotta Dance' through COVID-19

Grundstrom in a living room teaching students connected via the computer in front of her.

Many U.S. universities have shifted from face-to-face instruction to online platforms in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The conversion can be more challenging for labs and performance classes that don't lend themselves well to written material or slide presentation software. Some faculty members, including NMU Director of Dance Jill Grundstrom, are exploring innovative ways to engage students in a virtual environment.

As the COVID-19 crisis escalated, Grundstrom said she started to consider her options, should in-person instruction cease. 

“Of course there was the option to find videos online or create my own videos and send them to the classes, but that eliminates something I find very valuable: our community connection,” she said. “There is something truly lovely and reassuring about showing up for dance class everyday, seeing your classmates, and accomplishing something physically challenging together. While making form corrections on individual students without that physical contact will be a challenge, I am confident that my students and I will find a way around this.”

Grundstrom set out to maintain the community connection in her classes without meeting in person. She is using Zoom video meetings via laptop computers and NMU's EduCat system as her platforms. Students can connect from their residence hall rooms, apartments or homes.

 “I will teach from my home as much as possible, and will go into the studio at NMU as necessary and allowed,” Grundstrom said. “We will have kitchen/living room classes for intermediate ballet, modified to be able to use counter and desk tops as ‘ballet barres.' Combinations and choreography will be modified for safety and to fit whatever spaces we find ourselves in. The conditioning for dancers class will also be taught this way. The great thing is that we can all see each other on our computer screens; it kind of looks like the opening of ‘The Brady Bunch.' This way we are still meeting ‘face to face' and connecting to each other in each class.”

Grundstrom is not the only one conducting online courses. A large number of dance professionals have been hosting virtual dance classes in recent days to keep the dance community thriving amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“Our world, even without COVID-19, is changing and advancing so rapidly. Dance has moved right along with this,” said Grundstrom. “The number of accounts I follow on Instagram that show new technique methodologies, cross-training exercises or choreography outnumber everything else. I am hearing that many students outside of NMU have been assigned videos to watch and replicate, eliminating that feeling of a dance community. We are working on ways to include them in what we are doing so that they can keep dancing and stay a part of a dance community.”

It is in disruptive times like these that Grundstrom has been able to rely on her abilities not only as a dancer, instructor and performer, but also as a quick thinker and problem-solver in order to manage a difficult period.

“I always come back to this quote that was written to a dancer at American Ballet Theatre in a card: ‘Someone once said that beauty can change the world. What a great responsibility you have on your shoulders,'” said Grundstrom. “The arts bring so much beauty and joy into the world and we are going to need that. We have a big responsibility as we move forward. I think we, as an artistic community, can set a wonderful example of how to gracefully accept our new normal. Plus, I'd like to think that most of us in the arts and academia love a good challenge.”

Grundstrom said she is thankful that NMU is such a connected university, issuing laptop computers with cameras to all students and operating its own LTE network. 

This story was prepared by Charlie Edwards and Kristi Evans.

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