Colgate Dance Groups Perform in Virtual Dancefest


For the first time in the 22 year history of Dancefest, this semester’s performance was conducted entirely virtually on Saturday, Dec. 5 due to social distancing regulations and capacity limits for in-person gatherings from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The event that usually fills the Memorial Chapel with hundreds of students and community members each semester was instead held via livestream on Youtube.

A first for performers and audience members, the live-streamed event featured pre-recorded performances from a variety of dance groups. Given that performers were bound by COVID-19 regulations prohibiting performing many arts groups from rehearsing indoors, clips from dancers’ individual performances were compiled into a video.

A culmination of progress and practice, Dancefest gives student performers the opportunity to showcase their work from the semester. In hopes of continuing this annual event during the pandemic, Groove co-captains senior Abby Rathmann and junior Audrey Ponder came up with the idea for a virtual Dancefest. They collaborated with the Center for Leadership and Student Involvement (CLSI) to facilitate the University’s first digital Dancefest. 

“We still wanted to have some showcase of dance groups on campus, since Dancefest was cancelled for spring 2020,” Rathmann said. “It was definitely difficult planning a digital Dancefest, especially getting other dance groups on board. Since virtual Dancefest was new to everyone this semester, planning came with a lot of Zoom meetings and emails to throw out new ideas.” 

Given the lack of in-person rehearsals, choreography looked different for Groove, a contemporary and jazz group on campus, this year. In previous Dancefests, several troupes have performed pieces choreographed by a few group members. This year, individual Groove members were in charge of choreographing their own sections for the song performed, which was split up evenly among members. Rathmann explained that her and Ponder collaborated on choreographing the end of their performance for cohesion purposes.

“We decided to do it this way because teaching choreography to a whole song over Zoom can be very frustrating and time consuming, but I also think our final piece proved to be a meaningful symbol of the semester. Although we were all feeling isolated and alone, we were still able to come together at the end and create a sense of community as a group.” 

Despite attempts at virtually fostering community within the group, Ponder explained that the event felt disconnected compared to prior years. 

“Our group chose to do [choreography] on an individual basis and assign counts for each member to film,” Ponder said, “Dancing and rehearsing with the entire group is definitely more rewarding than individual filming. And of course, group pieces will look and run a lot differently than solo pieces because you have to think about how the dance will look as a whole rather than just worrying about your own part.”

While several groups adapted to virtual Dancefest protocol, rallying enthusiasm for the digital event proved to be more of a challenge this year as in-person collaboration was restricted, according to Ponder. 

“Since we were filming parts on our own, I at least found it harder to get excited about Dancefest even when the deadline was fast approaching,” Ponder said, “When we can work together, it feels really good to see the progress a group makes on a dance at the end of a semester.” 

Groove is one of several groups that performed virtually this semester. However, Colgate’s safety protocol, which prohibited performing arts groups from gathering in person, kept several groups from performing in this year’s Dancefest. According to junior Caroline Haigood, the inability to meet and rehearse in person kept her hip hop group Doin’ the Damn Thing (DDT) from performing in Dancefest this semester. 

“If we had chosen to do Dancefest, we would have had to film our parts separately,” Haigood said, “It was unfortunate that we couldn’t practice in person, yet at one point we were allowed to safely gather in groups of 50.” 

While Colgate’s safety guidelines for next semester are uncertain, if Dancefest must remain virtual, Rathmann is hopeful that more streamlined coordination will promote enthusiasm and encourage more groups to participate.