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Tessa Awalt-Conley / Courtesy of Virtual Movers and Groovers.

The homepage for the “Virtual movers and groovers” Facebook group. Cover art: Tessa Awalt-Conley, BC ’21.

Trained dancers might believe that dance requires a vast studio space equipped with marley floors and tall mirrors. But today, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting closure of studio space, dancers across the world are taking first position at makeshift ballet barres in their kitchen or spinning around on tile floors in their socks.

Although the transition to social distancing has made some resources scarce, the dance world has witnessed an outpour of previously inaccessible resources, including free online classes from elite dance institutions and performance footage from esteemed companies. In the Columbia and Barnard community, these resources are accessible on the Facebook page “Virtual movers and groovers,” which aims to maintain a community among student dancers despite geographic separation.

The page serves as a forum on which members can share resources and curate a community log of online dance opportunities. The group’s more than 180 members consist of Barnard and Columbia students, alumni, students from surrounding schools, and professors.

“I have personally found so many awesome online dance resources through [the page],” Olivia Roche, BC ʼ20, said. “I have been able to stay more connected to the dance world than I expected when I initially left New York City.”

The group was formed by dance major Sophie Visscher-Lubinizki, BC/JTS ’21, when she was the last of her suitemates to evacuate campus before the start of spring break. Her desire to maintain a sense of unity within the campus dance community inspired her to create the page.

“I think for all of us on campus, it’s just a really big sense of loss when we lost our homes and our spaces and all of our projects we were working on,” Visscher-Lubinizki said. “It just made sense to me to create an online space where we could hopefully still connect.”

Typically, students flock from all over the world to New York City to take advantage of its abundant dance opportunities. Although the number of studios and avenues of training appear endless, they come at a high cost. But with the creation of the “Virtual movers and groovers” page, these resources have now become much more accessible.

At Gibney—a popular movement enterprise among students with locations in Union Square and Lower Manhattan—the price of admission to a single open class is typically $19. In the age of COVID-19, Zoom classes are held on a “pay what you can” basis, with a suggested donation beginning at $5.

The renowned New York-based modern company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater began posting performance videos online for free, including full-length footage of its most popular piece of repertoire, “Revelations.” However, the release of these previously hidden gems includes a written caveat: “for a limited time.”

While the sudden availability of many online dance resources has eliminated the high cost of entry into prestigious studios and performance halls across the globe, the question remains as to whether or not these resources will continue to be available in a post-pandemic world.

“All of these [resources] are suddenly now in our living rooms, and I think that this is going to fundamentally change how we engage with dance,” Visscher-Lubinizki said. “I feel like after this all passes, I wonder if this is going to disappear.”

Among other opportunities shared on “Virtual movers and groovers” are links to classes taught by faculty of renowned modern company Alonzo King LINES Ballet, yoga and stretch classes for all levels, and even student- and alumni-led classes held on Instagram Live and Zoom.

Last week, Andrea Patella, BC ’21, promoted her class sponsored by the Columbia Musical Theatre Society on Instagram Live, where she taught original choreography from the musical “A Chorus Line."

“It was really fun to be able to interact with people on Instagram,” she said. “I had people reaching out to me after the class to thank me, ask questions, or share a video, which made it feel collaborative and social, even though I was physically just teaching to my phone.”

Kosta Karakashyan, CC ’19, uses the page to promote his own contemporary and ballroom classes on Instagram Live, which he tailors toward dancers of all experience levels.

“As someone who moved back to Bulgaria after graduation, I felt it was hard to stay connected with the dance community at Barnard and Columbia,” he said. “Now, the silver lining of the situation is that somehow I am just as connected virtually as everyone else, and with more time on our hands, we can really rest and dance more.”

So long as these online resources exist, Barnard and Columbia’s “Virtual movers and groovers” will continue to share them to foster a sense of unity within the community.

“As artists, the way we can be resilient is by continuing to create and using movement and music and what we have, our self-expression, to continue to try and look at the world with wonder and curiosity and creativity,” Visscher-Lubinizki said. “A virus isn’t going to stop that.”

Staff writer Lizzie Green can be contacted at Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

Virtual movers and groovers Dance Coronavirus Accessibility Lizzie Green
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