Perry-Mansfield instructors refuse to let pandemic ruin dancers’ summers
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Anyone who happened to wander near the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in the Strawberry Park area, north of Steamboat Springs, this summer might have seen a strange sight — a bearded gentleman dancing outside, by himself, in front of a laptop.
Normally, the famous theater and dance camp would be bustling with students ages 10 to young adults entering the professional world of creative arts.
But this isn’t any ordinary summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some of these students have been in their little New York apartments for months,” said Chris Compton, co-director of dance at Perry-Mansfield and assistant professor at the University of Arizona School of Dance. “We really wanted to do so something for our students, and for dance in general, that would keep pushing the art forward.”
At a time when a pandemic is shuttering businesses and hitting nonprofits hard, Compton and wife, Tamara Dyke-Compton, also a dance professor, refused to give up on their students who were stuck in their homes across the U.S.
They reached out to professional dance companies in hopes they would find teachers like themselves who would give a couple of weeks of their time to offer lessons online.
“We made it donation-based for the students,” Compton said. “We told them if you couldn’t afford anything, that’s OK, just keep dancing.”
In fact, one of the greatest modern dance companies in the world answered Perry-Mansfield’s call. Dante Puleio, artistic director of the famous Jose Limon Dance Co., knew that if dance companies were just surviving, it meant it was worse for the average person.
“If there is anything I can do to offer hope, share my passion and support artists, I will do that,” said Puleio in a phone call from his New York base. “In this historical moment, I hope the artists with whom I worked got the chance to deepen their connection to this art form and find connections with people from around the world struggling. Maybe this has the potential to bring us closer together.”
Compton said dance teachers got accustomed to online classes when the pandemic first closed universities and dance companies in the spring.
“We had to get adept at teaching online. It is tricky because proximity is key to dancing and we don’t have that,” he said. “You have to use your words carefully, and you learn different ways to illustrate what the dancer needs to do.”
Compton described how he would have 20 dancers on a screen and how he could catch general corrections needed by the whole class and then how he could change his computer screen to focus on one dancer to correct individual problems.
“I really need to use my brain harder than usual, because in-person corrections are ingrained in how you teach,” Compton said. “Online, you have one girl who may be in her mom’s dance studio and then another student who lives in a small apartment, and she’s dancing in her kitchen.”
He talked about how he has to customize dance combinations depending on the dancer’s environment. For example, a student stuck in a small apartment won’t be practicing her running leaps during the online intensive.
Still, students were thrilled with Perry-Mansfield’s efforts to make dance available at any cost. Tamara received this message in her email.
“It has been an amazing experience to learn from the faculty and to also get a feel for what Perry-Mansfield would have been like in person (the beautiful studio spaces, mountain view and sense of community),” wrote student Madison Myers from her home in Arizona.
“My heart just soars and opens up when taking class from you, Chris and the guest artists. It truly has been a magical two weeks,” wrote the 17-year-old.
Compton and his wife said the outpouring of thanks from students made the extra work so worthwhile.
“I wanted a forum for them to continue moving and dancing at a time when it’s really easy to be shut in and insular,” Compton said. “I wanted them to feel they are a part of this great community that values them and wants them to continue to grow.”
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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