The Show Must Go On: Dancefest in the Time of COVID-19


Ellie Cascio, Maroon-News Staff

Dancefest, an organized event held in the Chapel to display the hard work of a myriad of dance groups around campus, is held just once every semester. It began in 1998 and has been successfully held every semester since its start. The show has had a consistent structure, beginning with a choreographed number involving every dance group followed by each group performing one or two numbers of their own creation. For multiple years now, it has been the most attended event on campus thanks to the degree to which dancers and community members alike look forward to it. Sophomore Riley Decker explained the spectating experience. 

“Dancefest is a gathering of joy, art and togetherness. Seeing everyone packed into the Chapel sharing this experience was so powerful. The outlet of dance teaches students self-expression, to collaborate with a group and to be proud of their work,” she said.

Senior Abby Rathmann is the captain of Groove Dance Troupe, a contemporary jazz group tasked with organizing Dancefest each semester. Rathmann became involved with Groove and Dancefest during her first year at Colgate. 

Joining Groove, I instantly felt welcomed as a part of the group, and it was such a great way to meet new people and form close-knit friendships with people I would have never met otherwise on campus. Since Groove organizes Dancefest, I also knew that it would be a great way for me to connect with the entire dance community at Colgate,” she reflected.

A touchstone to the Colgate community, Dancefest is an opportunity to bring all types of people together. It is not simply an event for dancers to show off what they have been dedicating their free time to all semester long. Rather, the range of genres and cultures represented at Dancefest is incredibly expansive, offering something for everyone to enjoy. 

Rathmann reminisced, “Every semester lines form outside of the chapel, even in the bitter cold, starting an hour before Dancefest even begins, and the seats fill up within minutes of the doors opening.”

Due to COVID-19’s forced exodus of campus in March of last year, Dancefest was unfortunately canceled. Certainly, COVID-19 has remained steadfast in its alteration of life as we know it on campus. The daily routine to which members of dance groups have grown accustomed to has completely shifted. The lack of conventional rehearsals has been yet another casualty of COVID-19.

“Getting those few hours a week during practice to forget about all of the stress of school and to do something you love with people that you love, and then being able to showcase that to the whole Colgate community during Dancefest is something that I have not taken for granted in the past three years.  Navigating this semester without that has been really tough for me, as I’m sure it also has for many other student dancers,” Rathmann said. 

Junior Ahmaud Gabriele, who is involved in Ballroom Dance and Latin American Dance, echoed these sentiments. 

“Dancefest was the most surprisingly cathartic thing ever. I never imagined that I’d be dancing, yet I found myself completely immersed in the experience. And missing it last semester actually made me extremely sad. It was in its absence that I realized how deeply ingrained it was into my experience at Colgate,” he said.

While certainly there cannot be a packed Chapel as usual, Rathmann, in communication with other dance group leaders, is nonetheless trying to create a COVID-19 friendly performance. Like most traditions or events this year, adaptation is essential. Rather than an in-person event, this year’s Dancefest will be streamed virtually. The goal was to give the community the same feeling that Dancefest usually brings, a feeling which this community may need more than ever. The various dance groups on campus will create “music videos” displaying the groups’ choreography or the equivalent thereof to then post and stream on Colgate’s YouTube page on the original Dancefest date, Saturday, Dec. 5. 

Rathmann explained the decision, “Because of COVID-19 guidelines, no dance groups are permitted to rehearse together in person this semester, so we are hoping to enlist the help of other clubs on campus to assist in editing videos of individual dancers together. Although this is not how we envisioned Dancefest to ever look, we are very excited to be able to create something that the Colgate community can still look forward to, and hopefully provide some sense of normalcy to this semester.”

Dancefest is a time-honored tradition at Colgate, and this year Rathmann is set on offering the community a worthy replacement. The community may not be able to physically be together, but different club members can collaborate to help her and other dance group leaders’ vision come to life. While it may look and feel different, the Chapel eerily empty and quiet, the show must go on.