Zoom. Facebook Live. Microsoft Teams. Instagram Live. What do all these have in common? They are online platforms that allow live broadcasts, and many dance schools have been making use of them throughout this pandemic. Since not dancing is not an option, teachers have had to be creative. But let’s be real: taking an online dance class (streamed or recorded) is very different from being in the studio in a group class or physically one-on-one with your instructor. At the end of the day, what we as dancers do is a physical, contact sport. So we’ve put together some tips for you on how to make online classes work for you, and how to get the most out of them as we wade through this pandemic.
Let’s start with this. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. If you find yourself exhausted, drained, even anxious or depressed after an online session for anything: you are not alone. And there are reasons for this.
1. Overstimulation. According to Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead, who explores sustainable learning and development in the workplace, “Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat[.] Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. Our minds are together when our bodies feel we're not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.” (BBC)
2. Silence feels unnatural. Petriglieri also says, “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you become anxious about the technology. It also makes people uncomfortable.” According to a German study conducted pre-pandemic in 2014, it seems that even small delays on phone or conferencing systems impact our view of the person on the other end in a negative fashion. We perceive them to be less friendly or focused on what we’re saying. (BBC)
3. Performance. There’s also a performative aspect to being on camera. When we’re on camera, our awareness of being watched, and even scrutinized, is at an all-time high. So the expectation to perform well leaps to the forefront, exhausting us. (BBC)
There are other reasons, which you can read about in more detail in the articles listed at the end of this, but these are some of the main ones, coupled with the fact that most of us are working and communicating remotely 5-7 days a week instead of rarely. The added stress of a pandemic and a world turned upside only increases the exhaustion and anxiety induced by the reasons listed above.
The good news is, there are some ways you can combat Zoom fatigue.
1. Breaks. If you’ve been sitting and staring at a computer screen all day, it is entirely possible that as much as you want to dance, the prospect of staring at the same screen again fills you with dread. So take a break. In fact, take breaks throughout the day. Get away from the screen for 15 minutes, or longer if it’s the end of a work day. Go outside and go for a walk, or sit on the steps and breathe in the outdoors. If the weather is bad, then move around and do some light exercise to get the blood flowing. These are suggestions, perhaps something else works for you, but I’ve found that these are things that help me reset my brain and make it possible for me to return to the computer.
2. Change screens. This is something that works for me, though it’s obviously not ideal for a dance class. I work on my laptop, so when I have to turn it on for another video call (even though it’s not work-related) it triggers something in my brain. But if I use my phone or iPad -- something I do not associate with work -- it allows me to proceed better.
3. Turn off your camera. I know, for a dance class this is counter-intuitive but bear with me. When we’re on screen in a video call, research shows that we spend most of the time looking at ourselves. (Harvard Business Review) So if you can, turn off your screen for a time, then switch it back on if the instructor wants to see the class execute a move so he or she can assess progress. And in day-to-day non-dance meetings, keep the camera off. I never turn my camera on at work and this has really helped me to deal with the intensity of a totally online environment.
4. Don’t multi-task. Whether you’re in a meeting or an online dance class, remember that you are there to focus on what is going on. Being in our own homes and spaces, it’s tempting to do something else at the same time -- reply to an email, answer a text, etc. -- but it’s actually taking energy away from something that already requires a lot. So...don’t do it.
These tips were taken from an article in the Harvard Business Review (link at the end), and modified for online dance classes.
MAKING ONLINE CLASSES WORK FOR YOU
Speaking as a former teacher who has taught in the classroom as well as online, let me just say that online teaching is hard and a special kind of exhausting. Standing in front of a lecture hall stimulates and energizes me, talking to a screen (potentially filled with blackened tiles) does not. So for that I would like to say: THANK YOU to every single dance teacher who has been teaching through an online platform. It is not easy and I am so very, very grateful.
So how can you make online classes work for you? Most of us don’t have the floor or the space of a studio or a ballroom, so we have to make do with all kinds of different surfaces. And many of us are dancing solo since we don’t live with our partners. It can feel futile, at times. But rest assured it is not. Even dancing alone in your basement is beneficial to your growth as a dancer. And here are some ways to make the most of it.
1. Shoes. If you are not dancing on a proper hardwood surface, chances are that suede-soled shoes might not be the best option. I have a laminate floor and it was far too slippery, and was killing the suede on my shoes. So consider investing in a pair of more “outdoor” dance shoes. These can be shoes with leather soles or special swivel patches to help you dance safely on other surfaces. The last thing you want is to injure yourself because you’re not wearing the right footwear for the surface. At iLoveDanceShoes some of our most popular models for outdoor wear are the Graydon or the Agile, available for men and women.
2. Go at your own pace. Trying to copy something or someone off a screen is hard, especially if it’s happening in real time. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up during class (or your sound system isn’t great, like my laptop’s…), make a note of your question and email your instructor, or ask about it in your private lesson. And always remember that if a movement feels weird or just plain wrong, stop doing it and wait for clarification. This will not only help you avoid injury from moving in the wrong way, but it will also ensure that you don’t have to unlearn something...which is a whole lot harder than learning something for the first time!
3. It’s all in the technique. If you feel that online, partner-less classes are pointless, remember: it’s all in the technique. If you can do a step on your own, imagine what it will feel like with a partner: effortless. As dancers, we should not be relying on our partner. We need to be independent, having confidence in our own movements, so that when we dance...we dance. So many of the exercises and techniques that I’ve learned through the online classes are things that have stayed with me and are showing the fruits in my private lessons. Not only do I have greater appreciation for why I should be independent in my own movements, but the confidence, stability, balance, etc. that I have now are greater than I had before. So now, even when I learn something for the first time...it’s easier.
4. Patience. Technology is technology is...technology. That means there will be glitches. Maybe your sound doesn’t work or the instructor’s mic slips or the connection freezes or...you get the picture. It’s easy to become frustrated. But better to have patience. We all have to work with what we’ve got and the more we do it, the more used to it we’ll become. Keep in mind that every teacher is different and online teaching is a new experience and it’s hard. Some teachers will adapt better than others -- and you will adapt as well. So have patience with yourself and with your teachers, because they are doing their best. And if your alternative is not dancing at all...well, I know what my answer is.
5. Anywhere, anytime, any class. The positive side of online classes is that if you have to travel for work, you don’t have to miss dance class. Simply log in from your hotel room. And also? Want to take Argentine Tango lessons from a master in Argentina? You can do that. Contact them, get the class information, and away you go. The possibilities are endless.
WHERE TO FIND ONLINE CLASSES
If you are already plugged into a dance school, chances are they are offering online classes even if in-studio classes have resumed. If your school is not offering online classes, consider asking them if it’s something they would consider doing and if not, if they have recommendations on where to look.
The following studios and teachers offer online dance classes:
What’s more good news? Well, this won’t last forever (and I will mashish the foot of the next individual who calls this “new normal”). So in the meantime, let’s support our dance studios and teachers because they need it more than ever. They are the superstars who believe in us and our gifts, so let’s show them that we believe in them and what they do.