Professor Jandy M Bergmann leads the routine for her modern contemporary dance class on April 12, in preparation for their virtual performance in this year's spring concert. | Photo by Dakota Cox

The dance program is potentially in danger of disappearing

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially devastating to dance

Before Jandy M Bergmann began her tenure as a dance professor at HSU, she was a student in the program – in a manner of speaking.

Shortly after dropping out of the University of Michigan, Bergmann moved to northern California and found a job at a plant nursery. She began crashing dance classes at HSU and fell in love with the non-competitive learning environment that prioritizes growth. Bergmann left Humboldt to complete her education, but returned a decade later to become an official member of the department, where she’s spent the last 23 years.

Unfortunately, the global pandemic has hit the dance department at HSU especially hard. Class sizes in the department have collectively shrunk since shelter-in-place began and others have been cut altogether.

“Dancing is just about the hardest thing to do in isolation,” Bergmann said. “There’s so much learning we can’t do.”

Though the majority of dance classes are now being held partially in-person, there are still significant factors limiting students’ ability to learn. For the classes that take place entirely online and during the quarantine periods of each in-person class that are taught on Zoom, the barriers to learning are drastically more obtuse.

Dance and social work double major DiOria Woods has noticed some of her skills have begun to decline during the pandemic, without her usual access to a conducive learning environment.

“There are dance classes online, but some of them are a little more expensive and I don’t have the proper floor to do certain moves, so I have to really contain it,” Woods said. “I can’t really practice the leaps and the jumps and the turns that I want to.”

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, Woods said she couldn’t picture a world where she doesn’t dance.

“I know there’s more to me besides dancing, but I’ve done it for so long and it’s such a big part of me and who I am,” Woods said. “Even if I was never to perform again, I would still be in my dance room [and] in my living room dancing.”

In addition to being a dance major, Chloe Schmidt is also an instructor at Arcata’s Trillium Dance Studios, where she took classes as a child. For Schmidt, the limitations created by the pandemic have fueled her passion for dance more now than ever.

“I think [dance is] actually keeping me going during the pandemic,” Schmidt said. “I think it’s been really important for a lot of people, even if dance isn’t their life’s passion.”

In pursuit of a professional dance career, along with her regular coursework, Schmidt has begun attending Zoom classes with teachers from New York and Los Angeles. While the online format provides the opportunity to learn from instructors Schmidt wouldn’t normally have access to, the experience still manages to be underwhelming.

“Zoom classes [are] really hard. Dancing in your room with no one else around is really different than what we’re used to,” Schmidt said. “Dance, for me, is really about connecting with people. So, that was a challenge to have that cut off.”

Dance and kinesiology double major Calvin Tjosaas has been dancing on and off for 10 years, whenever he can afford the time and financial commitments.

“Studio access is everything,” Tjosaas said. “I can dance at home, but it really doesn’t feel the same and the space is not always conducive to creativity and expression. So, being [in the studio] is really good for the soul.”

Even being back on campus for the majority of this semester, Tjosaas still feels dance majors are missing out on a huge aspect of the experience, not being able to interact with one another.

“Working with other dancers is one of the reasons I love dancing,” Tjosaas said. “There’s just nothing like feeding off of another person’s energy.”

When the pandemic first began, Bergmann admitted dancing was the last thing she wanted to do.

“We’re all swallowing this big thistle of worry and sadness,” Bergmann said. “You have to really want this if you’re going to put on the mask and follow all these rules.”

Even with vaccinations being distributed and classes continuing to trend back in the direction of normal operations, Bergmann is concerned for the future of the program, given the impact the pandemic has already had.

“It feels like a vulnerable time for dance,” Bergmann said. “We just got hit really hard and we’re just hoping we can come back.

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