When Dana Hall transitioned to a distance learning program in late March, it was clear that the members of the Performing Arts Department would have to dig deep into their creative resources to reimagine a program that would have no shared rehearsal space, no stage and no audience.
Director of Dance Devon Fitchett and Dance instructor Mikaela Bradley leveled all the Upper School dance students and each now teaches one class every day, via Zoom. There are now two levels of modern, ballet and jazz, and one each of tap, hip hop and dance conditioning classes that meet in the afternoon.
“In each of the technique classes we do a warm up comparable to those we do in the studio and then work on some choreography,” says Fitchett. “I can really focus on giving individual feedback to kids in a way that is more beneficial than I’d expected.”
The Dance Repertory Group also meets once a week during D block. Fitchett has provided the group with a series of projects that they can do on their own, and then submit videos of their work. One project was called Same Same But Different. “I gave them a list of basic dance directions and the same piece of music,” explains Fitchett. “They each created their own interpretations, and then I also taught them one combination that is the same length as what they created, so they all can dance the same choreography, and then we can create a film out of that.”
Originally, the Performing Arts Department had hoped to share a condensed showcase in late May that would feature selections from Dance, the Chamber Singers and the Upper School Musical Kiss Me Kate. When Governor Charlie Baker mandated that schools remain closed through the end of the academic year, that plan was shelved. “We asked students what would feel good, and their response was heartening,” says Performing Arts Department Head Liz Fenstermaker. Students said they wanted to be together, to read and discuss the scenes in Kiss Me Kate and learn music and choreography, with a focus on self exploration and artistic growth. “It's part of what we believe — that arts transform artists,” notes Fenstermaker. “We share with an audience, but it's not all about being presentational. Being an artist is about taking in the world, making sense of it, and imagining new possibilities. For example, we decoded Kate's last speech in Taming of the Shrew, which is problematic at best. I sent thoughts and exercises about decoding rhyme and meter. Suddenly, it wasn't just one actor's speech; that moment belonged to all of us.”
New limitations have elevated new performance platforms. Director of Choral Music David Coleman recorded and edited the Chamber Singers’ “at home” performance of Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose.”
In the Middle School, Fenstermaker has continued to work with 5th graders on elements from their play and Danny Morris is working with his students in Tech Theater, while Sarah Del Dotto led students in film scoring lessons, and Jennifer Ashe adapted her ukulele instruction to this new format.
The School of Music School moved to distance-learning as soon as Dana Hall went on spring break. School of Music Executive Director Michelle Kiehl reports that half of the music faculty had had experience teaching via Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsAPP and WeChat prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the other half quickly adapted. Faculty members are now each teaching up to 30 lessons online per week. Students are engaging in their regular 1:1 music lessons with their teachers, which offers a sense of continuity with their pre-COVID-19 schedules. “Teachers are finding that many of their students are actually progressing at faster rates, spending more time with their instruments,” says Kiehl. “Some students are connecting with one another and enjoying lessons together. Some students do not have access to their instruments, especially those that expected to return to dorms after spring break. These students are enriching their music education through theory, composition and reflection exercises and finding the work enriching and complimentary to their instrumental learning this year.”
The Music School will hold a Zoom recital on Sunday, June at 1 p.m. “Continuing music lessons for Dana Hall students has meant contributing to many of these students' sense of comfort, routine, creativity and growth,” says Kiehl. “We couldn't be more pleased to reach out and offer what we can to our students during this time.”
For Fitchett, one unexpected bonus of this time of physical distancing has been the reconnection with many Dana Hall alumnae. In late March, two former students from the Class of 2012 reached out to Fitchett about dancing together again. She decided to offer alumnae classes on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. “It was a way for all us to connect,” says Fitchett. “There are students from all my years at Dana, students who I taught at BYM in Boston, and kids who I taught privately. There are Dana kids who graduated 10 years ago and who graduated last year, who maybe had heard of each other but had never danced together or met. Some haven’t danced in 10 years, and this has been a way for them to get back into it. It’s been really energizing and really fun.”
"My favorite Dana Hall memory would be the first time I ever sang the Alma Mater with my fellow classmates. That was most definitely the first time I felt like I was truly a part of something. Joining hands with my future Silver Sisters made me truly feel like I was a Dana girl."