Amid shutdowns dancers take the virtual stage

Photo courtesy of Maggie Waller, taken by screenshot.
A pandemic and quarantine have forced student and professional dancers to reimagine for the first time traditional dance performance.

ASU dance major Maggie Waller showcased her senior thesis project over a Zoom meeting, and professional dancer Jackie JK47 Agudo participated in the first online breakdance battle.

While their COVID-19 stresses diverge, their experiences align as they reflect on the pandemic’s historical and necessary implications on their communities.

“I went through a lot of stages…kind of like stages of grief, so it was denial at first,” Maggie Waller said as she reflected on first receiving word in March that ASU dance studios would be shut down and in-person events cancelled. 

Among the in-person events cancelled was Waller’s senior thesis performance. 

Waller, who has been rehearsing since September, stated, “I was devastated…A big focus that I wanted to have was on community engagement. And the space, in particular, was really important for me. That [ASU] amphitheater has a lot of history for me, and it felt really important for me to do it there.”

Rather than scrapping or simplifying the project, Waller reformatted her dance thesis for online-viewing in the few remaining weeks before performance day. She was determined to fulfill the original intent of her project and give those at home a sense of community she felt was needed during the pandemic.  

Waller learned the ins and outs of Zoom and coordinated a virtual performance consisting of 9 dancers and some audience participation, where Waller fulfilled the roles of dancer, director, stage manager, and tech manager. 

Despite the performance missing the traditional tangible, physical components, Waller said, “[the experience] was very human, very intimate, which is…the opposite of what my assumptions of technology were.”
Maggie Waller’s first showing of her thesis project, Reclamation, via Zoom. Photo courtesy of Maggie Waller, taken by screenshot.

Agudo was equally as surprised by the new ways technology could bring individuals together in isolation. 

She initially hesitated at the idea of an online dance battle because it reverted from original ideals of hip hop.

“My heart completely changed in the middle of the battles, because I was starting to see more and more other bgirls that I never heard of,” Agudo said, “This girl from Indonesia–this underdog, this person no one knew–she was smoking bgirls, like, heavy-hitters…my heart was like, ‘Okay, I’m down…I see the benefits of this.’”

The online battle, hosted by mega breakdancing platform BreakFree, connected to competitors around the world. Breakdancers from places like Africa, Greece, and Indonesia had a never-before-seen opportunity. 

Agudo acknowledged the defects of an online battle, such as audio and visual lag, as well as the essential in-person energy and support during battle.  She also stated: “The fact that there was something for me to look forward to…That anticipation–it felt like how I felt before the quarantine.”

Jackie Agudo submitted her BreakFree battle entry video via Instagram. Photo courtesy of Jackie Agudo, taken by screenshot.

Ironically, Waller and Agudo agree COVID-19 is bringing people closer than ever. 

“I just feel like people are digging deeper now,” Agudo said. “In this time, we all need each other. So…there really is more love.” 

Waller concludes, “I think this has forced us to empathize with one another, and I hope that doesn’t go away.”

About Author

Jasmine Albrough is a first year journalism student at Mesa Community College. She was born and raised in the Midwest, though currently resides in Tempe, Arizona. She is a multidisciplinary artist and enthusiast of the arts, striving to amplify the voices of those within her immediate community.

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