You look at the familiar posters stuck to the walls since March of last year while you walk through the strip that’s eerily empty; a hall that’s normally overflowed with students. It is now November, and as you approach the dance room, you catch a glimpse of the reflection of students wearing masks while moving rhythmically to the loud music. This isn’t the setting you’re used to since you’ve been learning choreography through a screen, but you decide to make the best out of practicing in person.
For the first time, the Dance Academy participated in three virtual competitions this year: Inferno Dance Competition, Step Up 2 Dance Competition, and Fly Dance Competition. Nine groups from Francis Lewis won first in their category and six groups placed in the top 3.
Over 15 groups were formed, ranging from solos, duos, trios, and small groups.
“I came up with the small groups via analyzing audition videos,” dance teacher Ms. Franza said, “as well as what we used as diagnostics in the beginning of the year and what students said they were interested in using a Google form.”
Competition teams met during period 2 or 5 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays on Zoom. Dancers were given a section of their song to choreograph, which they would then teach to their partner during the meetings.
“It was quite an undertaking,” Ms. Franza said. “A lot of programs didn’t even bother to do this because they wouldn’t be able to see their kids in person. I had to believe in my kids and that made me feel confident that we would be able to do this over zoom.”
There were also a variety of dance styles that were chosen for the groups such as hip-hop, jazz, contemporary, pom, and cultural.
“My group was the only one that was given pom,” junior Janice Lin said. “The Beyonce remix we used was very upbeat and the tempo was fast, which was a challenge to choreograph since our movements had to be super sharp, quick, and it required a lot of energy. The dance style is very similar to cheer.”
While the whole process was done through Zoom classes, the dancers were given an opportunity to meet in school and have Ms. Franza clean up their choreography and provide feedback. This was also the first time some of the dancers would see each other in person and not through a computer screen. Six groups were scheduled to attend school on November 16 and nine were scheduled for November 18.
“I felt a bit nervous at first but I got comfortable real quick. Our group just clicked together,” sophomore Eileen Gagnay Ortiz said.
It was approximately 4 pm on November 18 when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all NYC public school buildings would be shutting down on the 19th since over 3 percent of Covid tests were positive. The dancers were still at practice when they found out.
“The recording day was supposed to be on the 19th,” Lin said. “We were all panicking.”
After the news broke out, Ms. Franza made the decision to have most of the dances recorded the same night. Groups who couldn’t make it to the school building before it was closed indefinitely would have to record on their own.
“I felt overwhelmed and stressed because my team and I had to perfect the dance within a short amount of time,” Ortiz said. “My group had been rehearsing for over 6 hours so by the time it was our turn to have our dance recorded, we were all burnt out.”
Ms. Franza and the dancers faced many challenges. Some groups didn’t have their costumes and some were trying their best to get the choreography down.
“You know, as well as everyone else, I almost had a mental breakdown,” Ms. Franza said. “However, us being able to record that night is something that will go down as one of my hardest and most rewarding moments in my career so far.”
Videos for the competition were submitted the following week as Ms. Franza reflected on the challenging but inspiring year.
“The fact that the students are able to come together and do this truly shows how the Francis Lewis Dance Academy has not only great dancers, but students that have heart and grit,” Ms. Franza said.