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Student organizations in the arts adapt to a hybrid environment

When Carleton students were abruptly sent home at the end of last Winter Term, student organizations were thrown into limbo, unsure how to continue with their members spread out across the country and world. A remote Spring Term provided insight into what could work well when facing the challenge of creating new ways to meet and uphold community in a COVID-safe fashion this term.

Among these organizations, groups associated with the arts—like the Jazz and Contemporary Dance Company (JCo), the Knightingales a capella group and Drawing Club—are getting creative in the ways they meet, since they would typically rely on group gatherings for practices and performances. 

Continuing to foster a community for those with a passion for a dance was important to the directors of JCo this term. They put careful thought into crafting ways to continue dancing together from a distance. 

“Dancers will [learn] choreography, film themselves individually, and then [edit] together a video performance for each piece,”  said Simran Kadam ’23, one of three directors of JCo. The edited video “will then be posted to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.” The video will be in lieu of a live performance “since it is not feasible to hold rehearsals or have an in-person show this term.” 

Kadam described the new format that JCo has taken. “We now interact primarily through Zoom,” said Kadam. One exception was auditions this past weekend. The auditions were held outside of the Weitz and were socially-distanced, masked and sanitized. Luckily, going virtual hasn’t taken a toll on interest in JCo. Kadam noted that the event had “a great turnout,” and remarked that “interest in the club seems to be growing.” 

There are certainly challenges to moving a traditionally contact-heavy organisation like JCo online. The biggest challenge JCo faces is the inability to use dance studios on campus. “This acts as a barrier for some individuals, because not everyone has the space or resources to fully dance,” Kadam noted. Fortunately, there are some benefits to moving online as well. Kadam sees this new format as “a really exciting opportunity for group members who are choreographing for the first time. The flexible online format allows dancers to be very creative and is less stressful than running rehearsals in person.” 

Carleton’s oldest women’s a capella group, the Knightingales, has also shifted to an online format in order to keep rehearsing and fostering their community. Maddie Damberg-Ott ’23 said, “We had to do all of the auditions on Zoom which was an interesting and difficult process.” Damberg-Ott noted that “it’s much harder to hear people sing and match pitch over a computer to begin with, let alone all the technological issues that we encountered.” 

Because of the difficulties of holding auditions over Zoom, the Knightingales opted for socially-distanced, masked outdoor callbacks. According to Damberg-Ott, this “was helpful because we could actually hear them sing better.” However, it will not be feasible for the Knightingales to continue any sort of in-person rehearsals as not all members are on campus this term. As a result, “rehearsals will be on Zoom for the whole term, and a concert learning multiple songs is pretty much out of the question.” Due to these reasons, the Knightingales have altered what and how they will rehearse over Zoom. “We will be doing more skills-based things this term, which will be good for our group,” said Damberg-Ott. As with so many other student organizations this term, adjusting has been a challenge, but the Knightingales have done their best to adapt to a new form and make the term as normal as possible.

While JCo and Knightingales have assumed a largely virtual form, Drawing Club has adjusted to continue in-person meetings. Weekly meetings are still held in-person, but they are now always outdoors, socially distanced and masked. For member Carsten Finholt ’23, these meetings are “a much-needed space to catch my breath and recenter myself in a world ever overrun with chaos.” 

To add meaning to outdoor meetings this term, there is a focus on drawing landscapes and other things that can be captured in nature. In addition, “it’s a great way to meet new people and have an aspect of your life not surrounded by schoolwork,” said Robin Rojas-Cheatham ’23, who said she is happy that Drawing Club has found a way to continue to meet in person and foster a sense of community among those interested in art.

Each of these and many other student organizations involved with the arts have successfully adapted to a COVID-friendly form that allows students to continue being involved with activities that they are passionate about. As the term goes on, much is subject to change, but one thing students in these organizations can be sure about is that they will continue to have access to them. 

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