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Dance Like Nobody's Watching: Student Experiences of COVID-19 in Canada

In-person interdisciplinary teaching presents its own challenges and limitations, but what happens when you move courses from different faculties online and have the students collaborate virtually on a music and dance video? As it turns out, it can be a remarkably engaging and rewarding process.

In the fall of 2020, during the heart of the global pandemic, students from Dr. Brenda Cantelo’s Religion and Dance course in the Faculty of Arts collaborated with students from Dr. Gordon Fitzell’s eXperimental Improv Ensemble (XIE) in the Desautels Faculty of Music at the University of Manitoba to create a dance video on the theme of living through COVID-19. Together with award-winning choreographer Stephanie Ballard, Cantelo and Fitzell first led the students through the process of brainstorming ideas in collaborative Zoom sessions and developing the work’s four-part approach to exploring the impact of the pandemic on our lives. Each dance sequence and musical track was then performed remotely by individual students. The video and music were then edited together to form a unified expression of our collective pandemic experience.

Dr. Brenda Cantelo (Department of Religion, Faculty of Arts). University of Manitoba. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. Brenda Cantelo joined the Department of Religion in 1998. Her scholarship centres on the religion and the arts, with specialization in Religion and Dance and the sacred art of India. Her current research projects include the production of a site-specific dance project and the documentation of sacred religious sites and rituals in Mexico. Dr. Cantelo teaches courses such as Indian Religious Art and Architecture in India, Religion and Dance and an Introduction to Eastern Religions.

Dr. Gordon Fitzell (Desautels Faculty of Music). University of Manitoba. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. Gordon Fitzell is a Canadian composer, improviser and sound artist. His music, described as “throbbing and trancelike” (New York Times), tends to explore peculiar points of connection between classical and popular elements of culture, freely inhabiting acoustic, electroacoustic and interdisciplinary performance environments. His music is featured on various albums, including GRAMMY-winning, Opus Award-winning, JUNO-nominated and West Coast Music Award-nominated recordings. Fitzell is an artistic co-director of the new music organization Groundswell, and a professor of composition at the University of Manitoba Desautels Faculty of Music in Winnipeg, where he leads the eXperimental Improv Ensemble.

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