Pushing Against the Constraints of the Screen: Arts Classes Overcome Virtual Obstacles

Back in March, the idea that “zoom school” would still be taking place this year seemed incomprehensible. Hospitals were flooded with patients who had COVID-19 and thousands of people were dying every day, but many remained optimistic that doctors would soon find a solution. However, as COVID-19 continued to spread and the death rate continued to climb, the future of the virus became more unknown and the reality of zoom school began to set in. 

After months of deliberation, Grace made the decision to enact a hybrid schedule in order to have students return to school while also giving others the option to remain fully remote. With some students back in the building and others at home, it is no surprise that everyone in the Grace community is experiencing numerous challenges. Students and teachers are having to adjust to a new school environment: masks, smaller classes, six feet between everyone at all times, no gatherings. With only half of the students in-person due to the strict social distancing restrictions, teachers are finding new ways to allow both the hybrid students and the students who are fully remote to get the most out of each class. 

Arts classes, more than any other subject, are heavily dependent on group collaboration and personal interaction, meaning classes like GraceNotes—Grace’s choral group—and Dance Ensemble have been hit the hardest during this transition to online school. When asked if Zoom could replicate the experiences of in-person singing, Mr. Leonard– the teacher of GraceNotes–said that it was not possible due to the significant sound lag over the computer as well as the no singing in-person rule. To solve this issue, Mr. Leonard came up with asynchronous work for the in-person cohort to complete while the remote students work individually on their singing. While there are many obstacles that Mr. Leonard anticipates facing in the near future, he has decided to view them as “fun and exciting challenges for [them] as an ensemble” and an opportunity for the group to become “self-sufficient artists within the context of a larger ensemble.” 

The Dance Ensemble faces similar, seemingly insurmountable challenges during this time. Josie Macdonald ‘22, a member of the Dance Ensemble, noted that when dancing in-person, “[the group] just dances and has fun together,” but now on Zoom, this is a lot harder to do. Macdonald admitted that she “misses the studio environment” but feels that the ensemble has always been a strong community and “zoom has not changed it at all.” She elaborated that the ensemble has “been able to learn new choreography and still get the feeling of a cohesive group.” She also mentioned that the ensemble has “been a creative place for [her] during these unprecedented times. Dancing has proved to be an escape for many of the students who are a part of the ensemble. Like Mr. Leonard, Ms. Pommiss– the Dance Ensemble teacher–believes it is an “awesome challenge to be asked to create connection when we are stripped of the very things that make it possible in the first place.” Dancing over zoom drives students to “push against the constraints of the screen,” while also “hold[ing] connections within [themselves] and cultivating it in different ways.” While the Dance Ensemble continues to find new ways to work around the limitations that online learning presents, their dedication to dance and to the group has made this process easier to handle. 

While these groups have faced many obstacles, the communities that they’ve built over the course of several years have kept them unified during these difficult times. When they come across a challenge, they find a solution, further strengthening the communities they have established. The one thing that has remained the same throughout the entire pandemic is our dedication to the Grace community. This dedication has guided us through an unpredictable time and will continue to guide us through the school year. 

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