PART 1 – Our Neighbors to the North UP NEXT: PART 2 – First Weeks In, with Stockton University’s Dance Team
Changes rerouted the usual college experience this year, with extra curricular activities really feeling the “essentials” impact. But not everything was given up, as adaptable hands at the helm modified and chose to keep their extra activities in the mix. No matter how tough the prospect of students balancing their virtual education became, dance teams around the country – a big part of the academic year for many -- took their own path to ensure that their engagement in this and last school year was not lost. And a few A.C. voices, dance coaches and students, shared their experience of ups and downs in the face of COVID. In Part 1, read about the initial shift and recovery from shock in the early days of Coronavirus, through the eyes of our local A.C. gal, Sarah Callazzo. In Part 2, catch the happenings of Stockton University, as dancers push through with complete dedication for a dance team comeback.
AC resident Sarah Callazzo @sarahcallazzo was finishing up her school year on a campus miles away when COVID shut-downs hit in March. A competitive dancer since she was 6 years old, the focused and friendly PR and Marketing major was a proud “Ramette” on her school’s celebrated dance team at the University of Rhode Island. March took the country by storm, as city after city
reported warnings and shutdowns. U.R.I.’s sporting events were no exception and took a break until further notice - a big loss for the Ramettes, whose focus was on preparing routines for the games, football and men's and women's basketball. Boasting a large performance roster of 30-40 appearances per year, the full force to zero was hard on the team’s dancers, in both spirit and their bodies. Physically not dancing made Sarah’s muscles feel tighter and less apt. The social distancing took away the fun and flourish where previously she shone, describing herself as a performance over practice dancer. The halt in all events left her dismayed. She admits it was hard to “not be looking forward to things the same way.”
So what next? They were inching through uncertainty as the team cancelled the annual, in-person audition. With time, as they found their bearings, Sarah said the annual tryouts moved to the virtual sphere. And what a process it was! Hopefuls wrote in about which kicks, leaps and tricks they could do and highlighted their strengths in a written resume. They were then sent a list of required movements to showcase in a homemade video, along with any 30-second jazz and hip hop routines. It was no easy feat – dancers were losing certain abilities due to lack of sufficient practice and doing all of these flips and turns wherever they could – basements, living rooms, outdoors on concrete. One movement, the “switch leap”, requires the dancer to get a running start and leap up into the air in a full split. Before landing, she must switch her legs to show a full split on the other side, all in the air, before coming down!! Imagine the dangers and limitations of showcasing yourself to the fullest this way, with a drop in practice and cramped spaces. Moreover, these 5-minute videos were all the coaches had to go on to select or cut a dancer. The competition, always stiff, with even veterans of the team still fighting for their spot along with first-timers, tested 70 dancers. Only 15-25 get the spot, and Serena Sevigny was one of the lucky ones.
The Communications and Nutrition major is a sort of “little sister” to Sarah, through the dance team, which encourages strong social and mentor like relationships amongst its troupe. She was nervous but made the winning video – which took her 7 hours to make and edit with her phone. Serena
said it was very tough, as she didn’t feel her usual "dance-ready" self and didn’t meet her own pre-Covid standards. Still, she was lucky enough to have a former dance teacher give her access to use a studio alone, escaping the fate of other unlucky dancers who had to make this video in the less favorable spaces, as written above.
After the auditions, the Ramettes were somehow able to figure out a plan of attack for this coming year. They had a large initial meeting virtually. All sports events still remain closed for the near future - for now moving to the spring, so reviewing old choreography was prioritized in a hope for being ready for 2021, and any new choreo was forgone.
Serena and the others practiced their “fight song” that opens the games and were required to submit themselves demonstrating the movement every week via their Facebook group, where the captain and coach gave feedback. An important step, Serena said it was at least some way to moving forward, but lamented that it’s not the same as it was, and feels isolating. She misses the team in person, the energies of the other girls, but along with the rest of the dancers tries to keep a positive mindset, eat healthy and work towards a comeback, whenever it does come.
Both Sarah and Serena are optimistic for the future, Serena now also taking a “little sister" through the team. She’s passing on the good vibes she got from Sarah to the incoming dancers. To catch Serena’s next strides, keep up with her and the team at @serenaa_rae. Sarah recently focused more on her academics, leaving the dance team this year. She spent her summer back home, working at A.C.’s popular new bar/restaurant Rhythm and Spirits on Tennessee Ave., and is looking forward to her classes. She also runs her social media platform raising awareness about eating disorders - normalizing dialogue about the issue and supporting others. Check out her awesome content at @sar.calla
Her advice to dancers creating and practicing online this year: Take the first step and make the video! Have faith in yourself.
A great takeaway for all of us - wishing every student an accomplished year!
Stay tuned for PART 2!