The annual University of Oregon faculty dance concert streamed online this year, instead of in person. One of the pieces, “You Shall Live,” opens with four women spaced 10 feet apart and wearing masks. They dance together and yet cannot touch each other. A huge part of many dance forms is human contact, but with the pandemic, this is no longer possible.
For senior Makena Cavarozzi, a dance and sociology major at UO, the piece “You Shall Live” symbolizes power, burden and life. The song it’s choreographed to is all about breath, with the line “I need you to breathe again” repeating throughout. The choice to use this song, focusing on breathing during a pandemic that makes it harder to breathe, was not coincidental.
“I kind of took it as a way of optimism, as we’re gonna get through this,” Cavarozzi said. “We still have our voices.”
As a dance and sociology major, Cavarozzi believes that the pandemic highlights the cross between sociology and dance. Since COVID-19 shut everything down in March 2020, Cavarozzi said that every piece she has danced in centered “human relationships, systematic relationships and political issues.” For her, the pandemic amplifies the need for human contact.
“Dance has really come forward and shown amazing things throughout this pandemic. And it’s completely, in my opinion, sociology-based, because this pandemic is about people,” Cavarozzi said. “The world is telling you you need to stop, and dance has shown us that the dance in us, the art form, doesn’t stop.”
Cavarozzi started competitive dancing at age 10. Originally from Los Angeles, she came to UO because of its dance program. She felt strongly that she did not want her needs to get lost in an overly competitive dance program. She joined the UO Hip Hop Team to ensure that she could perform as much as possible.
In the dance department at UO, Cavarozzi mostly practices contemporary and modern styles of dance. Since the summer, all dance classes at UO have either been held via Zoom or in-person requiring students to wear masks and stay 10 feet apart. Outside of class, she is the president of the UO Hip Hop Team. Unlike classes in the dance department, the Hip Hop Team functions fully via Zoom, practicing twice a week without being able to perform. Cavarozzi is hopeful that they will be able to meet in person starting next term.
Cavarozzi will graduate this spring and then move back to LA. Her dream is to make enough money to support herself through professional dance and one day open up a dance studio.
UO Hip Hop Team is not the only hip-hop-specific dance group on campus. Kenneth De La Fuente, a sports business major, dances for Duck Street Dance Club. On the club’s Instagram page, a video shows De La Fuente teaching the choreography for the club’s auditions back in October. Unlike the UO Hip Hop Team, Duck Street Dance Club still trains in person while wearing masks the whole time.
“Dancing with a mask on is probably five times the effort,” De La Fuente said. “That doesn’t just go with our style of dance, it goes with every dancer, every single dance club here at the UO.”
While not a dance major, he has taken dance classes in the dance department at UO. He recalled one of his favorite classes, an African dance class. De La Fuente took the class last spring term, completely virtual. Even though the class was not in person, De La Fuente expressed that he still enjoyed it. The new experience challenged him, although he did note that he probably would not take another virtual dance class.
“Dance for me is a passion,” De La Fuente said. “Let’s say the dance class is not taught properly, at the end of the day, I try to make the most out of the class.”
De La Fuente mostly dances with Duck Street Dance Club. The team practices in person but no longer gets to perform in person. There will be a year-end dance concert hosted online.
Dance has long been an emotional support system for De La Fuente, and that hasn't changed during the pandemic. When something goes wrong or he needs to process his emotions, dance is De La Fuente’s main go-to.
“It’s like your way to express yourself really explicitly without having to resort to other methods,” De La Fuente said, referring to how dance is an emotional outlet for him. “[Dance is] the ability to just go all out, and let out all your feelings.”
Krump is De La Fuente’s favorite style of dance. Krump started in the early 2000s in southern California. It is a type of street dance that De La Fuente described as “expressive and aggressive.” For De La Fuente, krump is a style of dance rooted in activism due to its history in minority communities.
“I always make sure that when I dance, I dance to have fun. But there is always an intention,” De La Fuente said.
Both Cavarozzi and De La Fuente reflected on how their experiences with dance have changed over the past year, including dancing with masks on, dancing socially distanced or over Zoom and dancing about issues highlighted by the pandemic. Both dancers realized they will always find ways to prioritize dance and expressed optimism for the future.