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UArizona dance students gracefully find path back on stage during pandemic

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TUCSON (KVOA) - University of Arizona dance students had to think on their feet and quickly improvise to continue doing what they love during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university stopped in-person classes last year after spring break. After months of careful planning, the UArizona School of Dance was one of the very first programs to come back in-person.

The seemingly effortless moves on the stage come from years of practice and self-confidence. Their comfort level mastered by spending hours together each week just feet apart.

"Sometimes we're not really thinking. Sometimes it just happens. It's about being in the moment, right there present, enjoying what we're doing because that's why we're here. We're here to make art," UA graduate student Eduardo Zambrana said.

But how does such a physical art form survive in a pandemic when your stage, your canvass shuts down and your workspace becomes your living room via Zoom?

That's where professors Autumn Eckman and just down the hall Tammy Dyke-Compton enter stage left.

"And I just remembered laying down at night not able to sleep, thinking I have to still teach," Dyke-Compton said. "How am I going to do this? And how am I still going to give to my students and keep the art form going. We're not going to let dance die at this moment."

"We have to find a way," Eckman said. "We have to find a way to pivot in this time because creativity never stops and physicality doesn't stop."

Classes went on Zoom for the rest of the semester where the
sequencing and footwork relied heavily on a strong internet connection.
The weight of the moment fell hard on UArizona sophomore Kennedy Frazier's graceful shoulders.

"I wondered if I'd ever be able to dance on stage again. It was scary in that first moment, but then I just tried to take it in stride," she said.

Kennedy's fears were put to rest in August when five months after COVID-19 closed the studio doors, students walked back into their element with masks and social distancing now a required part of class.

"You're exercising, you're doing strenuous activity, it's hard to breathe with a mask on," Frazier said. "It's hard to read people's facial expressions so I feel like the energy in class is different. You've got to do a lot of eye work."

These students are performing on stage in front of an empty house instead of dancing for a virtual audience.

"I feel really lucky," Dyke-Compton said. "This is not true for all the schools across the country some schools have still been in isolation and taking dance class from home in their apartments."

"Every time we come into these studios, we see familiar faces and we start creating a sense of family, Zambrana said."

A family of young dancers whose passion for their craft found new meaning this last year.

"They're changing the course of what is possible," Eckman said. "We're going to look back and turn to them in times of perseverance and look at what they've been able to accomplish."

"Dancers are problem solvers," Dyke-Compton said. "And we are the future of where dance is going to go and it's changed forever through this pandemic."

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Eric Fink

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