By Gea Ujčić
Whether on a porch or in the kitchen, living room, or bedroom, six novice tap dancers are doing Shuffles, Maxi Fords and complicated Broadways in front of their cameras. It’s midday on a Saturday, and these beginner tappers are learning these intricate patterns over Zoom.
College Park Art Exchange (CPAE) is a grassroots nonprofit organization that’s been active in the area for the past two decades. Due to the pandemic, the organization has shifted most its activities online. Although the organization’s choirs, band and orchestra activities are currently suspended, art and creative writing classes, and dance sessions are all taking place virtually.
Anne Gardner, CPAE’s social media specialist, said that they were able to quickly and effectively switch to virtual programming. “It’s been a great opportunity for people to try different things, and for us to try different things, and I think it has been working out well, considering the circumstances,” she said.
Like many other CPAE initiatives, the idea to organize the Beginners’ Tap Dance workshops came from the public, explained Anne Gardner. “One nice thing about the dance class is that no one can see you, especially if you turn your camera off … it doesn’t matter if you mess up, no one can see, so I think people may be more prepared to try something they wouldn’t otherwise have the courage to do in front of a class,” she added.
Julia Frank is a 69-year-old psychiatrist and a college professor. She teaches classes over Zoom, and she’s been dancing since childhood, but this is the first virtual dance class she’s taken.
“It is a great joy to do something different when we are all kind of stuck in narrow routines and narrow places,” she said.
Andrea Waters, a 42-year-old teacher with the Montgomery County Public Schools system, agrees. “There are so many things we can’t do right now due to the pandemic, and it was nice to feel like this was something I could do. It gives me some joy and respite from all the other craziness going on,” she said.
Waters appreciates the attention that tapping requires, too. “There’s a lot of stressful things going on, and when you’re tapping, you have to completely focus on what your feet are doing, and it’s nice to escape for a while,” she said.
Elizabeth Gardner, who studies dance and history at Barnard College, teaches the class. Gardner’s been dancing since she was three, and she previously taught a dance class at her college, and one for preschoolers, too. This is her first time teaching dance virtually.
During the class, Gardner focuses her webcam on her legs and feet so the attendees can see her movements. Because of this setup, she can’t easily see her students’ faces, and she said that she misses visual feedback from her students. You can often hear her asking, “How are we feeling? Thumbs up, thumbs down?”
Although Gardner prefers in-person teaching, she has found that using a virtual platform has some advantages. “When everyone is tapping in the same room together, it can get really loud, and everyone being in their own home and having the mute feature … it’s actually helpful for a lot of people, to not get overwhelmed with too much going on,” she said.
Enrollment for the free tap dance workshop is open, and anyone can join. New dancers are welcome, and you don’t even need tap shoes. For more information and to register, visit the CPAE website (cpae.org) and start tapping this Saturday!