PICTURED: Heather Castillo’s students dancing over Zoom on May 18, 2020. Photo by Heather Castillo

by Alex Wilson

The sudden and unexpected switch from classroom teaching to online learning poses challenges for all instructors and students, but classes in the arts present some of the steepest learning curves.

While a math, English or computer class might be relatively easy to move online, ones that involve pursuits such as dancing, theater or music might seem almost impossible without having students in close proximity.  

Arts instructors are now forced to improvise and create brand new teaching methods, which is apparently sparking creativity.

Heather Castillo is assistant professor of performing arts with an emphasis in dance at California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI), and adjusted quickly to get her dance classes online.

Castillo experimented with different computer systems to customize a setup that works for herbdance class, using a laptop in front and an iPad behind her so students can better see her movements.

One major issues dance teachers face is that Zoom, the popular remote meeting program, is designed primarily to facilitate people talking to each other. It has severe limitations when it comes to playing music. Castillo invented her own system using Zoom, for its video capability, simultaneously with another program called Jukebox, available through Spotify, which keeps the music and dancers in sync.

Since students in Castillo’s dance class are socially isolated like everyone else, online classes provide a needed break. 

“My students appreciate having a movement class to come to. They’re glad we have our warm up to go through, and our combinations, and that we play music. But on the flip side it’s been challenging without having planned the class from the ground up to be online,” said Castillo.

Even though dance students will miss out on dancing closely with each other and being on a big stage, the challenges posed by social distancing and online learning may actually spur creativity and innovation.

“What I say is, your house has become your set. So we’re not dancing on a big empty stage anymore — now were all dancing on sets. And we have to consider new things: How does the movement capture on camera?” Castillo explained. “So you just have to shift what you teach them in this moment about your art form.”

Castillo says the challenges she’s facing should improve her teaching abilities as well. “My instruction will be better because of things I discover in this moment,” said Castillo. “We are growing. Just not in the way we expected to.”