WINCHESTER — On Friday, Shenandoah University announced it was transitioning to online classes for the rest of the semester amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

The change has required some professors and students to get pretty creative in how lessons are taught and learned.

Take for example a ballet class held Monday morning. Twenty-six SU students used the video teleconference application Zoom to watch and dance with Professor Shylo Martinez. Professor Matt Pardo watched the students and later gave them individual corrections and comments.

Most of the students had to find a place where they could dance during the 45-minute class. Some danced in their bedrooms while others used their kitchen, dining room, basement or porch. Many relied on holding a chair, dresser, windowsill or porch rail instead of a ballet barre.

"I love all the impromptu locations," Martinez, a visiting professor of dance and coordinator of musical theater dance at SU, told her students before they began their virtual class. 

Pardo, an SU assistant professor of modern dance, and Martinez have combined their classes during this unusual situation so students can dance alongside an instructor while receiving feedback from another. The students are expected to participate every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. 

As the dancers practiced together, an occasional dog or cat at would enter a student's video frame as they danced away. Despite the furry distractions, the students remained focused on their instruction. 

Alexis Yard, an SU junior majoring in musical theater, said her online classes have gone better than she initially expected. Online jazz classes are offered Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Many colleges have switched to online classes as a result of the pandemic.

"We definitely miss them," Yard said about in-person classes, but she added that online classes are so far "definitely the best alternative."

"I feel like it just starts my day off right everyday, so that I feel like I'm in the normal routine that we would be in," Yard said. "It's been a lot easier than I thought it was after figuring out the initial troubleshooting of where am I going to be and how do I use the [Zoom] program."

Even though the setting is different, SU junior and dance major Cara Thomas said it's good to continue dancing every morning. She added that the discussion posts required outside of class are helpful and intellectually stimulating. 

Thomas has a roommate taking the same ballet class. On Monday, Thomas danced in their basement while her roommate danced in the kitchen.

Martinez said some students benefit from the tactile ways an instructor can show a student how to fix their posture or movement, but not having that in-person instruction is a good challenge for that student to learn in different ways, she added.

Overall, there are a lot of positive attitudes from students about the online classes, which started last week, Thomas said. "It's kind of scary thinking about how we can keep improving and keep in the positive mindset even though this is how it's going to be for the rest of the semester, which is kind of hard." 

Martinez ended Monday's ballet class on an upbeat note, telling students, "You did a great job. I miss seeing you face-to-face but this is even cooler."

— Contact Anna Merod at amerod@winchesterstar.com

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