Teaching Virtual Dance Classes to Kids: What I've Learned
By Lydia Perakis
My name is Lydia Perakis and I live in Brooklyn, New York. Before the pandemic, I was working as a dance performer, choreographer, and educator in various studios and spaces around New York. I have been teaching virtually since April. My experience with online teaching started due to the pandemic; however, it has been an eye-opener to the endless possibilities and importance of utilizing technology in dance education.
Online teaching expands dance access. Because of the virtual classes, I have been able to reach students across the world I wouldn't normally, as well as have access to a broader span of ages. People seem more eager to experiment and try new skills while at home; there are students taking virtual dance classes who wouldn’t have necessarily prior to the pandemic. They tend to feel more comfortable in their own space rather than facing the intimidation of a studio full of strangers. In addition, virtual classes are more convenient to parents since there is no commute time, which benefits families as a whole.
Because the classes on Outschool [the online teaching platform] are automatically recorded and posted in the online classroom, students are able to “re-take” the class. That way, students who may have felt challenged learning all the material I demonstrated live in class, are able to spend more time with it on their own, something they wouldn't have been able to do in an in-person class.
Visualization and clear instructions are crucial when the instructor is not in the same space with the student. Your voice becomes your main tool, especially if the student is watching through a small screen. If the tool is properly utilized and the student is eager to learn, explore, and trust the educator through the screen, online learning can be equally as beneficial as in-person.
A few downsides of online learning I have observed are technical difficulties that can delay or interrupt the flow of class as well as general access to technology. Not all families can afford the expenses of online learning, which needs to be acknowledged and taken into account when talking about the communities we're accessing around the globe.
Another downside I have observed would be that some students get more easily distracted. They don’t necessarily associate being home with being “in class.” However, I have been experimenting with different approaches to engage the learners and establish an official class setting even through the virtual space.
Lastly, students having adequate space at home, as well as proper flooring (especially if we are practicing jumps) can be a challenge. I have appropriately adjusted all the classes I teach to fit into different space capacities, so this is usually a setback we find ways to work around.
I can't say that one can replace the other since we are comparing two very different educational spaces, but there is equal value to both online and in-person classes. Dance is an art form that heavily relies on community and human connection, and that can be challenging if we try to replicate the same in-person model when teaching online. It does not necessarily have to be the same. The class structure and format can shift in order to be transported through the two-dimensional space.
Both educational spaces have a lot to offer if explored and approached with an open mind. We need to be willing to fail, rebuild, reshape, and adjust in order to move dance education forward during this global pause. But there definitely is a way. The community and eagerness to move I have experienced in my classes these past two months have been enormous and so fulfilling, and that strength makes me hopeful about the resilience of our art form.
Photo by Travis Magee