Going the distance for dance

Faced with adapting a dance classroom to online learning, Shakia Johnson created Black Beauty Dance, a remote program for all.

By Keely Sexton

When campuses across the country shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic, professors scrambled to adapt their courses to the new online landscape. Shakia Johnson, Five College lecturer in dance, was no different, according to a recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Johnson, who explores issues of inequality and social and racial injustice in her choreographic work, doubled down on her commitment to her students.

What began with informal Zoom meetings to talk soon morphed into talk-and-movement classes. As her ideas and techniques bloomed, so did the classes. She recruited other well-known dancers and choreographers to help teach, and now the classes are offered to students beyond the Five College community, five days a week, throughout the summer.

This is a Zoom photo of dancers practicing movements in their own spaces.
Dancers practice movements with each other over Zoom, from their own spaces.

Dance student Olivia Lowe ’21 heaped praise on the classes. “This is an opportunity that I have not had in the Five College dance departments,” she said via email. “Studying techniques rooted in Blackness — from Vernacular Jazz to Old Way Vogue — with Black Beauty has felt liberating, challenging and empowering by enabling me to physically embrace my history.”

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