By Kelly Pollock, feature writer for The Buzz Cafe
When Diane VanDerhei founded INTUIT Dance! in 2004, her goal was to develop lifelong lovers of dance and to involve her students in the full creative process. She never imagined a global pandemic and the adaptations that it would require, but in March 2020, when COVID-19 shut down Oak Park and the rest of Illinois, the teachers and students at INTUIT did what they always do: got creative and made the best of the situation. “We had to turn on a dime and not miss a beat during the pandemic. I stress problem-solving in choreography class so I had to live up to my philosophy and figure it out instead of freaking out. The kids started using FaceTime during classes and that led me to videotaping classes and then Zooming,” said Diane.
Having taught at INTUIT for several years and having choreographed the Oak Park and River Forest High School musicals since 2017, Connor Cornelius, like the dancers at INTUIT, is used to creative solutions. “Our students are always adapting and learning about dance in different ways beyond traditional technique classes. They are used to being open-minded so transitioning to films and other new solutions in the classroom was smooth.”
For teacher Sage Miller, the pandemic offered a unique opportunity to reconnect with INTUIT. “I had taught at INTUIT before, but last summer when I was living in New York, I got in touch with Diane and and started teaching again via Zoom.” She has since relocated to the Oak Park area and spent the spring teaching in the studio. “Teaching online and hybrid teaching were challenging, but it also inspired me. It involved lots of patience from both us, the teachers, and from our students. I was amazed by their commitment and creativity.”
After more than a year of Zoom and hybrid classes including two virtual performances, INTUIT students from preschool to high school were finally able to dance in front of a live audience on May 22 on the campus of Dominican University in River Forest. “Spring Carousel of Dance” was in four parts including the classical ballet “Les Sylphides” by Chopin, contemporary dances set to music by King Sunny Ade, and the number “It’s Time to Dance” from Broadway musical “The Prom.”
To comply with public health guidelines, the performances were outdoors and the audience was limited. “I loved that the outdoor recital built a sense of community. There was no fourth wall, no separation between the dancers and the audience. Dancers could see the audience react to their dancing in the moment and audience members could rejoice together. We could feel the energy and positivity which was something we all needed,” said Connor. Added Diane, “I loved the outdoor setting. It was something I had been thinking about even before the pandemic. The setting, the costumes, and the choreography were a lovely combination. The audience was so ready for a live performance and that contributed to the success of the event.”
The day also marked an opportunity to celebrate graduating seniors Mira Mundt and Julia Patston. “Mira has been an important part of our musical theater program the last few years and Julia has been dancing with us since she was in preschool,” said Diane. “They will both be missed.”
Throughout the pandemic, Diane was careful to comply with all public health guidelines. But by keeping classes small, and ensuring that dancers were masked and socially distanced, in-person classes were a possibility at different times in the last year. For Julia, her time at the studio was one of her only in-person connections. “School was fully remote until February so dancing at INTUIT was just about the only way we had to spend time with friends for much of the pandemic. We felt safe there with temperatures being taken, masks being worn, and hand sanitizer being used. I am so thankful we had the chance to dance together.”
INTUIT Dance! is located at 237 Harrison Street in the Oak Park Arts District. The four-week summer session begins June 5 and one-week workshops are offered in July and August. For more information, visit www.intuitdance.org.