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Tiny Dancers with a Big Pointe to prove!

10 Sep 2020

Wyndham College HSC dancers

Words: Nathan H

Photography: Elena S

Styling : Sarah M & Elena S

Dancers: Chloe W, Tylah S-A & Rachael M

Dance, on the surface, it is a graceful art form in which performers captivate audiences with displays of precision and elegance. Unseen, however is the physical and mental demand from dancers who dedicate their lives to countless hours of practice, rehearsals and auditions for mere moments in the spotlight. Composed of several disciplines each with an encyclopedia of techniques and terminology as unique as any foreign language, a dancer requires not only talent but passion, commitment and more than a little resilience to succeed in their craft.

Last minute changes

It is these qualities that thousands of Year 12 dance students across NSW have had to embrace this year, as their subject suffered the unexpected and unavoidable impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

Whilst students were still required to perform both their Core and Major performances, significant changes were made to the composition element of the HSC, with Major composition and Major film/video elements being cancelled. Due to social distancing, dance students were no longer able to teach their choreography, instead having to perform it themselves.

Wyndham College dance teacher and former professional ballerina Sarah Minol explained that pre-COVID “students had already begun choreographing and teaching their dances…some of the girls were half way through”.

This meant that routines had to be modified and altered to suit their own bodies and capabilities adding last minute pressure and anxiety in having to perform another dance item in the HSC.

Reimagining the rehearsal space

Unfortunately for the HSC dance students, the disruptions to their usual routine did not end there. An extended learning-from-home period early in the year meant a significant impact on crucial preparation time.

The key to a successful dance routine is practice. But how do you rehearse when you find yourself stuck in a pandemic induced lockdown? Experiencing this dilemma first hand were students Chloe Webster, Tylah Sta-Ana and Rachael McDermott from Wyndham College Nirimba.

The extended lockdown period tested their resolve as theyworked to overcome the impacts of a lack of suitable practice space and face-to-face learning with their teacher.

For Rachael and Chloe the biggest impact was “having to practice at home in a small space”, “being locked downwhile learning our dance was not ideal with a lot of the class either dancing in their lounge room or outside”, whilst Tylah commented that the lockdown “took a toll on my body as my daily routine had changed and I wasn't able to train as much as I usually would”.

As a teacher, Sarah could empathise with her students during the lockdown period. “We were about to commence learning the Major Performance work when we went into lockdown (we may have learnt about 30secs)” she said.

"So in regards to regular progress we were a few weeks delayed”

Sarah also faced the enormous challenge of “choreographing the major study dance option to suit the students differing capabilities when I couldn't physically see them in front of me”, as well as maintaining their engagement and physical fitness and also coming up with inventive ways of running practical lessons online that were safe for her students.

Lockdown…but not out!

Yet even though the challenges of learning a practical subject online was great, through a combination of creativity and resilience the girls and their teacher proved that not even a pandemic could stand in the way of success.

Chloe, Tylah, Rachael and Sarah all made use of the resources available to them to ensure that the impact on their preparation was as minimal as possible.

A common strategy that helped was maintaining a positive mind set and keeping focused on the goals they had set for themselves. The amazing efforts of teacher Sarah was also praised by her students.

“Sarah played a major role in helping the whole class through this chaos and made learning the major easy and stress free making this whole process easier for everyone.” said Chloe.

Meanwhile Sarah praised the adult behaviour of her students stating that “I actually found most of the students to be very mature in their approach and they all stayed on task really well”.

To assist the class in learning their practical performance, despite not being physically together and lacking a suitable practice space, lessons were conducted via zoom and through both Sarah and her students filming themselves in their make shift rehearsal spaces.

“I created videos of myself teaching and performing the major performance work and uploaded them” said Sarah. “Students uploaded choreography that they did in their home or backyard and I then provided individual feedback”.

Making connections

To say no-one could have predicted the events of this year would be an understatement in the least. However, it would seem that perhaps the events of the COVID-19 crisis allowed the Wyndham College dancers the chance to reflect on what they have learnt from their course and make connections between their studies and what they experienced.

The theme for this years Major Performance was rooted in Greek mythology, specifically the story of Persephone. Tylah explained that “Persephone is about the imprisonment of Persephone by Hades…it connected me to the challenges I faced as I realised I should be more aware of my surroundings”.

Putting it all together

On the 13th and 14th of August, despite all the set-backs inflicted by the COVID-19 crisis, Tylah, Chloe and Rachael went into their major practical performances with heads held high, shoulders back and of course, toes pointed.

After two full days of individual performances, each of the Wyndham College dancers was able to look back positively on their performance, with each giving praise to the tireless work of their teacher Sarah. Of her performance Rachael said “I was satisfied as I did the best I could…it has been a crazy year and thanks to Sarah for all her hard work to ensure that each of the girls achieved their best”.

The girls will now endure the long wait until their results are released and the full impact of 2020 is seen. But whilst her students face the agony of the unknown, teacher Sarah is confident of their success, “I am very proud of all the girls and their fantastic work ethic and resilience throughout these challenging times…the quality of work produced was excellent and a true reflection of their hard work and dedication”.