Latin American dance sessions go virtual

By Nandika Chatterjee, Staff Writer

 The Pandemic has contributed its fair share in disrupting the morale within communities. In response to this, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and La Casa Cultural Latina are holding virtual Latin American dance sessions through November and December.The idea for these virtual dance sessions is to encourage interconnectivity and positivity, even if it is on the internet. 

Alejandra Seufferheld, the Outreach Coordinator at CLACS, said “This is a program whose goal is to provide virtual classes and increase access to Latin American Dances for community members in Urbana- Champaign, and beyond. Indeed, many people from Latin America, the Caribbean, and other places in the US connected with CLACS tuned in to learn the dances.”

It took a lot of coordination for this to come together. CLACS is in charge of organizing and coordinating the program, connected with Yoel Cortes Peña and Krannert Center as they have great venues to do the class live. Once all the contributors  agreed, CLACS , with help from La Casa Latina, was in charge of the advertisement.

Peña is a Ph.D. student in the department of civil and environmental engineering who loves dancing and teaching dance

“If you are isolated and have no one to dance with, virtual programs like this must be helpful,” Peña said. 

With a majority of students and families confined inside, dancing indoors is a wonderful way to bring joy and activity to everyone’s lives. Being online adds a sort of comfort for anyone who would have been shy to let go in front of others. Dance is the way some people express themselves and having this outlet is a healthy way to get rid of the holiday blues or celebrate the holiday season.

These virtual classes have connected a lot of people.

“Participation in virtual programs has exceeded our expectations. For example, for the first Bachata class, more than 1,700 people tuned in! That was amazing!” Seufferheld said.

“When we looked closely into the data, we realized that it was not only students from UIUC and members of the community, but also people that have been connected to CLACS in many other ways and now live around the globe. For example, alumni that now are back in Latin America.  In fact, we have had participants from other countries at many of our virtual events.  This was the best part of virtual events: to connect with people not living in Urbana-Champaign, and thus, expand our audience” she said.

Mishel Melendez Bernardo, a graduate student from the Geography & GIS Department, had been attending bachata dancing classes with the instructor before it might be released on CLACS. Then, she became interested in the Zoom session as well.

Bernardo said “It helps people at home to do fun activities, forget for a moment their routine life of working, studying at home and learn something new that can be useful for them in the future probably. I know it’s difficult, it’s not the same as presential classes but it can encourage people (especially newby people) to attend classes in the future after COVID finishes.”

What’s more, she said that dancing is an activity for everyone. Regardless of age or how good they are or how introverted they are. She said “Do not get afraid about trying. Like you, many people start from the very basic ones. Everybody started learning at home, with friends.”

“With new people the situation is more challenging, but the instructors are always there for helping you whenever you want. In this case, due to everything being online, watching it several times can be useful also! And recording yourself is a good alternative too” she explained.

For anyone interested in more opportunities like this, there is a lot to look forward to going forward. Plans for virtual Learning Latin American Dances in the first week of February, March, and April of 2021 are currently in the motions. Though the details are still blurry the plans include dances from Brazil, Mexico and Argentina in the upcoming virtual events.

“I think it is normal to feel nervous when trying something new, but who knows, you might discover a love for dance within the comfort of your own home. That’s the beauty of it!” Seufferheld said.

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