Step up: How COVID-19 is affecting Sac State dance majors


Tara Gnewikow

Dance classes were not approved before the semester to take place in person leaving students to learn and practice their routines via Zoom. Graphic by Tara Gnewikow

Emmely Ramirez

With most in-person classes suspended at Sacramento State, students have had to adjust to a new reality, including students in the dance program who are taking all their classes via Zoom.

Sac State has worked with several departments to determine which courses could and could not be conducted online. The classes considered to need in-person meetings include film studies, theater, chemistry, engineering, nursing and biology, but not the dance program, according to Sac State.

With no in-person classes this semester, all dance courses are being taken online and have changed completely for students and professors.

“Connection is always the biggest thing,” said Samantha Chizek, senior dance major. “Sometimes you will cut off or the professor will and you miss an entire sequence.”

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Samantha Chizek records herself practicing a routine in a local studio where she works.

Along with the connection issues, students are also unable to use any of the amenities at Sac State such as the rooms in Yosemite Hall to practice in, so not everyone is equipped with a space to dance in. Some students like Stephanie Popaluca, senior dance and deaf studies major, have had to improvise.

“I have my living room to practice in and it is difficult no matter what I do,” Popaluca said. “I do have to modify a lot of the movement that I am doing because my living room is concrete with laminate on top of it and it is not best for big jumps.”

The transition from in-person to virtual classes could also pose a challenge for students effectively learning in their dance courses depending on their learning style.

“Those that are not visual learners have a hard time,” said Sac State assistant dance professor Bernard Brown. “Teaching material takes longer, if we were in class we would focus on mechanics and refining.”

The changes in the way courses are taught have forced students like senior dance major Amy Alejandro to think of new ways of learning.

“Since there are no recordings for one of my classes, I have to take notes right after class,” Alejandro said. “I have been sending my notes to my professor to see if the timing and the sequence is right and then he will edit it for me.”

Another challenge for students in the dance program is figuring out their senior project plans now that learning is virtual.

“For the seniors last spring when classes first moved to virtual classes, I was in two people’s pieces and they ended up having to tell us to record ourselves doing the material they gave us and send it in,” Chizek said.

Chizek said she was concerned about the prospect of what her own senior project might look like this year.

“They have not told us the plan for this semester and I have not asked because I am afraid of the answer, especially since I have been looking forward to the senior project,” Chizek said.

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Samantha Chizek practices part of a routine in her home on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020.

The pandemic has not only created difficulties for students educationally, but also career-wise. Graduating seniors are unsure what jobs will be available to them in the future.

“Talking to professors and doing research, I don’t know whether I should be continuing my education and getting a degree in something else as my backup.” Chizek said. “There are not really any companies doing any work because there are no theatres open, there’s online platforms for them to perform, but a lot of them are sticking to the company members they have currently and not expanding.”

Even though the future is difficult for some dance students to imagine, Alejandro said she has found that important events that have happened in 2020, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have potentially created new jobs for her.

Related: PHOTOS: Demonstrations against racial injustice advance through greater Sacramento area 

“As surprising as it is, the dance community was affected by the BLM movement especially when it came to targeting dance programs that mostly emphasized eurocentric styles,” Alejandro said. “After talking to my adviser, since other dance departments are getting affected by this, it’s probably going to be the best time for them to hire hip-hop professors.”

There are many challenges that come with holding virtual classes for dance majors, but both the students and professors said they have worked to find the best ways to hold these classes.

“I’m quite proud of my students,” Brown said. “I am encouraged by their engagement and I just want to tell them to stay connected to the world, I know that in these times it’s easy to just shut it all down, but move forward with integrity, purpose, compassion and empathy.”