StuySquad Hosts Annual Performance Virtually

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, StuySquad hosted its first virtual annual dance performance over YouTube on February 1.

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StuySquad, Stuyvesant’s largest annual dance showcase, was hosted virtually for the first time on February 1 and streamed live on YouTube. This year, practices were conducted over Zoom, evaluations were conducted over Flipgrid, and there were no member dues. Currently, the streamed show is available for viewing on StuySquad’s YouTube channel.

StuySquad consisted of 13 dance crews: Co-ed K-Pop, Belly, Tap, Boys Hip-Hop, Bollywood, Flow, Girls Hip-Hop, Latin, C-Pop, Contemporary, Step, and Girls K-Pop. Traditionally, StuySquad auditions, learning days, practices, rehearsals, and performances are all held in-person. The StuySquad presidents select board members and crew directors through an interview process; directors would then hold learning days, where they teach the audition dance to recruit members for their respective crews. The members would then choose their dance pieces and directors would teach the choreography to the dancers.

While the showcase is traditionally held in-person, the StuySquad Board decided to make the show virtual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “There was a very big learning curve when we started and some uncertainties about how we wanted to proceed with the show this year,” senior and StuySquad Co-President Elizabeth Tang said. “Originally we were planning on having people film in a studio so everyone could film it together, but that didn’t pan out.”

To monitor the progress of dancers learning choreography through Zoom, directors used multiple platforms for check-ins. “Dance is a very fluid action and in order for me to teach and monitor my crew's progress, I'd need to see them in person and how they use the space around them,” senior and StuySquad Co-President Roshni Patel said. “To get through [...] these challenges, we [...] [used] Edpuzzle video submissions for all members to make sure they were on track and having all crews edit their videos.”

In addition to teaching and dancing over Zoom, there was a major shift to video editing this year. “Video editing was a really big problem because a lot of people have never edited videos before and [senior and video editor] Sophia [Lin] helped anyone who didn’t have any video editing experience. Overall, working with the new environment was really difficult for us,” junior and StuySquad president-in-training Melody Lin said.

In piecing together the virtual show, directors were required to edit their respective crew’s videos. Senior and StuySquad Director of Logistics Athena Lam and Sophia Lin then assembled each crew’s video to produce the show. “There was a big learning curve figuring out the best ways to teach over Zoom and edit,” Lam said. “It was a fun learning process because it took a lot of trial and error trying to think of a new solution to figure out a problem and how to approach it. It was a really nice learning experience to figure things out as a group.”

Adjusting to the new environment, video editing also presented new challenges. “It was really time-consuming to sync all the members to the music and required a lot of brainpower to incorporate formations in a virtual setting,” Xinlei Lin said in an e-mail interview.

Though communication became more difficult, it remained a priority for members. “Some challenges I faced in preparation for the show were making sure that everyone was communicating and on top of their responsibilities, which was especially important when we couldn’t see each other in person and our only way of communicating became heavily dependent on the internet,” senior and Director of Coed K-Pop Xinlei Lin said.

Many also expressed the challenge of teaching choreography online and additional technological difficulties. “Zoom lag was a really big issue because the directors couldn’t tell if the dancers actually didn’t know the steps, didn’t know the timing, or Zoom was just messing it up for them. Plus, teaching counts is [already] extremely difficult in real life, so virtually, it was even harder,” sophomore Isabella Chow said. “However, eventually we, as a crew, were able to get it down.”

Senior Zi Liu performed in both the virtual SOS dance show last year and the virtual StuySquad show and found the two experiences to be similar. “The performance/practice process was more or less anticipated since we had the same virtual experience doing SOS last year. However, I definitely do think that StuySquad was much more organized and that the crew was able to better plan out logistics with each member,” Liu said in an e-mail interview.

Chow found the new experience of doing solo-dancing due to the virtual setting as a refreshing change. “Performance-wise, I had a great time doing solo choreo. Normally we would be doing partner work in real life, but because we’re virtual we couldn’t do that and instead turned to dancing by ourselves,” she said. “It gave me a chance to dance independently and not be hindered by my partner. I was able to get direct feedback on my dancing and grow as a dancer overall.”

Junior William Mo, who was in the Boys Hip-hop and Co-ed K-Pop crew agreed: “While I miss being able to actually be with the people I was dancing with, it was still great seeing everyone have fun on my laptop screen,” Mo said. “StuySquad kinda felt more serious since there was less fooling around over Zoom practices than during in-person practices.”

For freshman Lorraine Li, a highlight of her first StuySquad experience was unique costumes used for her Bollywood crew. “My favorite aspect [of the show] were the costumes we had. Lehengas and dupattas [popular forms of Indian ethnic clothing] were a part of our costume and I had never worn them before since it's not a part of my culture,” she said in an e-mail interview. “I wasn't exactly sure how to wear [the dupatta] [...] but my directors [taught] me how to wear and pin it to the rest of my costume.”

The StuySquad virtual showcase received a positive response from the broader community. “There were a lot of supportive comments from fellow StuySquad crew members, alumni, and people from outside the school. It’s very nice to see that even though we’re so distant, the support and community [are] still very much alive,” Melody Lin said.

However, some viewers expressed that a virtually-streamed show could not replicate the sense of community felt during an in-person show. “While the dance and choreography [are] great both in-person and remote, I think that watching in-person shows allowed it to feel like a community. I think the cheering from the audience added extra spice to the show, and when [the show] is through a computer screen, that extra spice is missing,” sophomore Ruby Lin said in an e-mail interview.

Despite this, many dance crew performers found the virtual product to be rewarding. “My favorite part of the show was seeing it all together. I'm really proud of how it all looked in the end, and the editing, I know it was really hard, but seeing everything come together was really worth it,” sophomore Anjini Katari said. “Despite the challenges, I had a lot of fun learning, performing, and getting to know the others.”

Though there were major adjustments made to implement a virtual show, many viewed StuySquad as a positive experience. “[StuySquad was a] very enjoyable experience outside of school that allowed me to explore different types of dance and get out of my comfort zone [...] I'd definitely do this again next year and try out for more crews,” Li said.

Tang echoed this sentiment. “Everyone who does StuySquad has a passion for dance or at least a very strong interest in dance and I feel like that hasn’t changed just because we’re on a different platform. Everyone who showed up to tryouts and auditions [was] there because they understood that StuySquad is a community and a close-knit family,” she said.