Madia Cooper-Ashirifi, dance department chair, uses Zoom to teach a West African dance class during Brenau's Summer Dance Workshop. The event moved online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Virtual dance workshop gives incoming students a taste of Brenau life

Jun 22, 2020
Michael Lowe

For Brenau University’s Department of Dance, virtually anything is possible — or possible virtually, that is.

With its annual Summer Dance Intensive postponed due to social-distancing measures, the department held a Summer Dance Workshop on June 8-12 with a series of online sessions taught by Brenau faculty and guest choreographers from around the country.

The five-day virtual workshop featured instruction on a variety of dance styles including ballet, contemporary, jazz, hip-hop and West African as well as classes on wellness, yoga, dance/movement therapy, Pilates and injury prevention. Brenau dance students and alumni facilitated discussions, and the program culminated with a short demonstration for parents and friends to watch via Zoom.

Department of Dance Chair Madia Cooper-Ashirifi said that while this year’s event was obviously different from the planned intensive — which is held each summer over two weeks on Brenau’s historic Gainesville campus — the online format still provided new opportunities for innovative learning in an intimate and interactive setting.

“With the online platform, we thought it might be smart to focus on technique but also go a little bit further with nontraditional subject areas that may benefit the dancers down the road,” she said. “Our hope is that through these collaborative efforts we introduced them to some other possibilities through dance.”

Assistant Professor of Dance John Streit, who organizes Brenau’s summer dance events, said he had already begun preparations for next year’s intensive, but discussions with registered dancers and faculty encouraged him to move forward with a Zoom-based workshop.

“I am so glad that we did,” Streit said. “The week was so much better than I imagined. We were able to begin some new collaborations with Brenau faculty in physical therapy and psychology — specifically, Dr. Stacey Hoffman, who taught a fabulous class on Wellness and Mindfulness, Amy Jacques who taught Dance/Movement Therapy, and Dr. James Lewis, who taught two seminars on Physical Therapy and Injury Prevention for dancers.”

Streit, who plans to incorporate these seminars into future on-ground intensives, also praised participants for their hard work as they danced multiple styles and took notes through various classes and lectures six hours a day throughout the week.

“The absolute dedication of the students was inspiring,” he said. “It really was an incredible week with students attending from all over the country as well as Canada.”

Claire Wright, an incoming first-year dance and biology major from New Hampshire, said she participated in the workshop to get an insight into what dancing at Brenau would be like.

“After I started the workshop, I got even more excited to go to Brenau,” she said. “I loved all the classes and teaching, and it has been such a great experience.”

Likewise, Siera Saldana, an entering first-year dance major from Lilburn, Georgia, said the workshop was a great opportunity to take classes with some of her future teachers while also staying active during the quarantine.

“The workshop has helped me a lot,” Saldana said. “I was able to explore different styles of dance that I wasn’t familiar with, and I had lots of fun doing so.

“This has definitely increased my excitement for the fall. I was already pretty excited to start with, but now I just can’t wait to get into the studio and meet all of the amazing teachers and dancers and continue my education.”

Brenau also welcomed a number of special guest artists for the summer workshop, including Paige Chambers, Atlanta talent agent and former Rockette and Broadway dancer; professional actor, singer and dancer Alexandra Frohlinger, who taught a mock audition and sat in on a panel on professional performing careers; and the internationally renowned Jock Soto, former principal dancer in New York City Ballet and past director of the men’s program at the School of American Ballet for 20 years.

“I found this week to be very uplifting and challenging,” said Soto, who has also worked in television and film, including as a guest on several episodes of Sesame Street and as a trainer on the 2010 film Black Swan. “I saw the improvement even over a few days. The dedication from the dancers was wonderful. It’s difficult not to be in a studio, but the commitment was very visible.”