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Dancing in Place: How Drexel Product Design and Dance Came Together to Create Safer Experiences for Students

March 9, 2021

As Drexel University approaches one year in remote teaching and learning environments due to the coronavirus pandemic, Westphal students and faculty continue to innovate and adapt in this era of disruption. Drexel's Dance students faced unique challenges, from learning dance techniques via Zoom to preventing injury from ill-suited dance surfaces and lack of space for movement. However, with every challenge comes opportunity. Thanks to the creative problem solving and ingenuity of Product Design faculty, staff, and students, the Dance program now has an exciting, safe approach to virtual performance.

For Drexel's Dance program, taking special care of students' "instruments [their bodies]" is of the utmost importance. "When we began the transition to remote learning, we knew there were certain physical movements that we would not assign to our students because we did not know what kind of surface(s) they were dancing on and the limitations of their space," explained Dance Program Director Sandra Parks. Despite this difficult transition, the Dance program aimed to make each student's experience as meaningful as possible.

Following the realization that dancers practicing on non-sprung floors in part of remote learning could face the potential risk of injury, Parks posed the question, "How can the Dance program both continue developing our students' skills in various dance techniques and prioritize their health and safety while the majority of them do not have the appropriate floors at home or in their dorm?" Delving deeper into this query with the help of Product Design Program Director Raja Schaar, Facility Manager Cooper Wright, and two Westphal students, Nico Añón and Tim Stolwyk, a solution was engineered that was like nothing on the market – custom-made six-foot by six-foot dance floors comprised of three individual portable pieces.

With minimal working knowledge of sprung floor, Wright rushed to research a suitable design for a portable dance floor based upon the needs of Dance students' curriculum and their differing dance forms. Woodshop and Fabrication Facility Manager Joe Bartram welcomed Wright to the woodshop located in the Design Arts Annex, allowing for additional workspace and help processing the needed material. In order to produce 15 completed dance floors, 45 individual pieces had to be created, which "with consideration to the time this takes, would have been an impossible task without the help of my work-study students," Wright explained. "I think this was the spirit of the whole project... staff to student relationships all combining into one production, just trying to make it all happen while utilizing every little bit of resources to make it happen."

Wright continues, "The final product was catered to what [the students] said they needed… it was a good investment that allowed Dance majors who wanted a suitable dance floor to have just that." After the creation of the portable sprung dance floor, the Dance program distributed an anonymous survey asking each student if they would like to receive the resource to test out at no cost to them.

As a result of the pandemic's unique challenges, interdisciplinary initiatives, like the custom-made portable dance floor, have brought the College together, embracing new and innovative ideas to further enhance the student experience. Parks and Wright are already in conversation about future collaborations that will make Drexel Dance performances more accessible to the community.