Campus Life

SMU Dance Seniors Respond to Performing Arts Industry Crisis

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In March 2020, Broadway went dark. In the following months, dance companies shut down and millions of artists were left without work. Performing arts businesses depend on paying audiences – without revenue, they struggle to stay open. As a consequence of the COVID recession, hiring budgets and job opportunities are more limited than ever.

But the show must go on, and SMU’s Division of Dance has found new ways to connect with the global dance community. In a “normal” year, SMU dance seniors participate in the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) festival in New York City. They also attend professional development seminars at the Gibney Center on Broadway. In Fall 2020, because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, seniors missed the opportunity to go to New York, but they still attended the event virtually.

“Instead of going to New York, we brought New York here,” said SMU Chair of Dance Christopher Dolder. “We still did an event with Gibney, and we did master classes [with] artists that might not have been in New York at the time.”

Virtual classes and conventions have shown to be successful, and the same is true for virtual auditions. But Dolder thinks that the virtual audition is not necessarily “here to stay” when the pandemic is over. He refers to the power of the smartphone for capturing dance videos.

“We have everyday devices to at least do the virtual introduction, but I think rarely will anyone audition you virtually and never try you out in real life before they hire you,” Dolder said. “If it’s used effectively and efficaciously, I think it’s a good process.”

Dance seniors, meanwhile, are anxious and uncertain about the future. But many are trying to stay optimistic.

“I don’t want to speak for the rest of the dancers, but as a collective, I feel like everybody just wants to be successful at whatever it is that they’re doing,” said Natasha Schmid, a senior studying dance and creative computation at SMU. “Whether it’s going to PT school or having a dance careers… in general everyone’s just like Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and whatever it takes to get there.”

“There’s more emphasis on making reels to be able to showcase yourself as a virtual candidate dancing for a camera,” said Caroline Waters, an SMU dance and journalism double major. “It’s definitely been a challenge, but the program is doing really well as far as giving us different trial runs and seeing what works and what doesn’t.”

Caroline’s back-up plan is to attend graduate school, but she’s keeping her eye on the prize for getting a job in dance. “Dance has been my love since I was four years old, and this is not a part of me that I want to let go of or feel like I even can let go of.” Natasha, similarly, hopes to start her career in a city where she can continue to attend company classes and auditions.

The circumstances are not ideal, but SMU dancers are slowly adapting to the virtual landscape created by the pandemic. By calling upon creativity and flexibility, dance seniors find the motivation to continue dancing and improving, despite the storm of COVID-19.

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