What I’ve Learned Teaching Dance Online
Now that everyone has to experience dance and learn online, I expect we have all learned a lot. Allow me to share some of the things I’ve learned about teaching dance online during the Covid pandemic.
Teaching online is a whole other skill. I realized this in my first online class for “Mother City Hop”, a festival in Cape Town, South Africa which I was scheduled to teach at in March 2020 that was canceled because of the pandemic. The event organizers heroically still managed to offer the festival experience virtually with only weeks notice. This first effort of reaching students live, globally, was thrilling but exhausting and slightly sad. I missed the energy and interaction with students in the room. It felt more than ever like a solo performance to an empty theater.
I think back to the early monologues delivered by the hilarious Stephen Colbert, alone from his house, with no laughing audience or live band to engage with. The awkward space after each joke was strange. But now a year later, some how it’s even funnier than before. I would like to think teaching solo Jazz online during this time has also found improvements. For me, it has really sharpened a lot of skills that I never worried about as much in person as I do now. I’ll list those later.
For online dance teaching the first thing I had to figure out was how to set up my camera to capture my full body movement. Most students will agree the most important thing is to visually see the dance teacher’s body. For all my online classes I have been moving furniture, converting every corner of my home into a dance space. I usually fall into the problem of having my head or arms cut off or running out of space to dance due to the camera frame. Best solutions have been to place the camera higher up, which captures more depth, use a wide angle lense, turn on auto-focus, and if possible have a second camera connected for details like feet. That’s asking a lot of a dance teacher. And that’s just the first thing.
The second most important element for teaching dance online is sound. This includes music to dance to and your voice. Most students ask me to teach with my back to the camera so that they can follow along with out having to reverse the movement in their minds. OK, that makes sense, but turning away from the camera device also means speaking away from the already minimal microphone. To solve this, I’ve been lucky enough to have access to microphone equipment because my awesome husband, Simon, is a musician (and a phenomenal teacher himself). So for every online dance class, I suit up with a cordless lavelier microphone that clips to my collar. This Senheiser system requires two sets of double AA batteries, one for the body mic and one for the receiver, which plugs into an H6 audio box that plugs into my laptop. I didn’t know what any of those words meant a year ago. I have since learned what’s what and where to plug this thing into that. It’s not difficult, but it definitely takes some dedicated “set-up” time.
Then there’s playing music for your online dance class. My favorite option is when using Zoom, go to the Advance – Share settings and select “Share Computer Sound”. This is perfect for DJ Zoom parties (have you been to one yet?) and it allows the students to really hear the music clearly, as if it was playing from their personal speakers. But, if you are dancing to the beat, the image that students see if often not in sync with the music; which is really crummy for a dance class, especially Jazz dance. So now what? Well the next best thing is to play music from a device in your space and I literally place my microphone next to the speakers. This allows the music to be heard and my movement is in sync. But, I can’t easily be heard if I want to count or call out moves. Maybe someday I’ll buy some kind of adapter that allows me to plug in my sound device into the H6 box so that both the music and my voice balance into the zoom audio stream. I’m not quite there yet.
I know this is getting long but very quickly, let’s go back to the skills that I feel have improved in this new world of teaching dance online.
- Having to dance in smaller spaces, while totally is not desirable, has actually encouraged new ideas to blossom. I have become more interested in intricate footwork and subtle movements of my hips and shoulders.
- Sharpened attention to detail is a MUST because the camera so powerfully sees everything you do. Students can actually see more clearly all the details of a teachers body when it’s on screen versus a large dance studio. There’s no “it’s too crowded” or “can the front row sit down!”
- Improved strength and stamina. When teaching alone, in front of a live camera stream there is NO break. You can take a sip of water or adjust the music but it makes for an awkward silence and cuts the flow of the “show”. Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself but I feel like my energy out put for a Zoom class is 200% more than a live-in-person class because the pressure to perform, give, entertain, keep everyone’s attention seems hyper focused in a video stream experience. And so for that, I think I’ve developed greater stamina.
- Dancing Full Out Demonstrations all the time. Sometimes in a large classroom I could walk around and watch students and give them individual pointers. And I could certainly take a break from dancing while they worked on the step. For online classes I have to demonstrate, in full, for most of the class because while students are at home watching, they want to “follow along”. Again, maybe I’m working too hard, but what I’ve found again is that I am dancing more fully, the entire hour, to show clear examples on video. And every time counts because you never know when someone may be sitting, watching, scrutinizing that one particular moment.
All in all, I’ve learned that teaching solo Jazz dance online is different, more challenging and requires new technical skills. But these don’t have to be negatives. I think the adjustments have made me a stronger dancer and better communicator. And I have a pretty great collection of video classes now to offer again in the future.
If you’re interested in seeing these classes consider becoming a Member of SyncopatedCity.com. I’ll be cataloguing and offering recap videos for most of the online classes I’ve taught over the past year. Get started with a few free taster lessons HERE!