Olivia Jacobus on Regaining Normalcy with the Online Dance Community

Despite missing her fellow Dance Academy students, Olivia Jacobus has been making the best of a challenging situation by turning to the online dance community and staying positive.

As Colburn has shifted to online learning over the last several weeks, the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute has been at the forefront of the transition. Over 80 classes a week have been moved to Zoom-based instruction, maintaining the interactive nature of dance class that is crucial to our dancers’ training. We talked to Dance Academy student Olivia Jacobus about her experience adjusting to online dance classes.

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

Tell me a little about yourself!
My name is Olivia Jacobus. I just turned 18. I’m with the Colburn Dance Academy and my hope is to be a professional ballet dancer and get into a company, whether that be in LA or somewhere else in the world. And since we are at home right now, I’m doing the online Zoom classes with Colburn.

Will you go to college or just start with a company as soon as you can?
Usually pre-professional programs start in high school—I joined Colburn when I was a sophomore. At the end of high school, you either go to a college pre-professional company or you make the transition into a real company and get paid for it. Nowadays, it’s shifting. Some companies want you to go to college first—before, they felt you could just do college afterwards. Now it’s more, go to college, get your education, and then come back to us.

What are you hoping to do?
I’m hoping to move into a traineeship or a pre-professional program that’s connected to a company.

How has it been adjusting to the Safer at Home order?
It was definitely hard in the beginning because I was used to having a schedule. I woke up every day, I got ready, I went to dance, and then I came home. I had to make a new schedule, and that’s always jarring because you’re like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do today. I don’t have this planned out.”

Since we started the Zoom classes, I get to see my classmates and my teachers. It’s a lot better because I feel that sense of routine again. It also puts your responsibilities in your own hands also because you need to put your work first instead of just going and having someone tell you to do it.

It’s also very inspiring to see the dance community pulling together during this time. So many dancers are giving online classes for everyone, like Tiler Peck, Isabella Boylston, Benjamin Griffiths, Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan, and so many more—I started to do the same! I’ve been livestreaming classes I teach on my Tiktok account to help fellow dancers feel that same sense of routine. Even though this is a hard time, it’s also heartwarming to see the teamwork from the community.

So, having classes online is allowing you to regain a sense of normalcy.
Exactly. Yeah.

Jenifer (Dean, Dance Academy) mentioned in class on Monday that there’s usually a pretty strict dance dress code. Are you still adhering to that even though it’s not mandatory anymore?
A lot of us had questions and it was good that she said it wasn’t mandatory! I think most of us are still adhering to a leotard and tights, or some professional-looking attire. A lot of the time when we have rehearsals and we can wear whatever we want, that’s where we feel a sense of freedom. But it’s not as laid back as you think in online classes, because they are still pushing us and we have to be in the right attire to focus. You’re still in class. It’s actually helpful for me because I’m reminded I’m still supposed to be working hard. I still need to put in everything.

It’s reminding you that even though the situation is a little strange, you’re still there to focus.
Yeah, exactly.

How has it been adjusting to classes online?
When we’re at Colburn, we have a big studio and the right floors. It’s definitely been difficult because we’re all in different size spaces. I’m in my room, and that is definitely a hard part for me. I love dance because I get to move around and feel the space, so it’s definitely hard when we have to stay pretty stationary. But then again, it’s just getting used to it. With everything in dance, the more you do something, the more you find little areas focus on and improve. It’s just that matter of time and getting back into the flow of things.

Have you found any of those areas for yourself so far?
Definitely! Just today we were doing things and Jenifer was like, “If you don’t have enough space to move, just do your best.” And I was like, that’s okay, because my best is all I can do right now. Before I felt that I couldn’t give as much as other people are giving, but I can, just in my way. My best way. It also builds confidence in your technique and in your dancing because you have to figure it out yourself. From that, you get your own version of your dancing at your house.

It sounds freeing when you put it like that.
Yeah, it is. You’re not in the studio and you don’t have to see people and compare yourself to them. You’re in your own space so you feel comfortable, but you’re still being pushed.

Has still having a live accompanist helped you at all?
I definitely think so, because I didn’t grow up having live music. The studio that I went to originally was all prerecorded, but I actually like listening to the live music because it feels like I’m still having to adjust to the tempos and listen, like when I’m in the studio. If I like their own flare that they’re adding to the music, I can add personality with that flair, and I still have that option. It’s like you said, it’s freeing to still have live accompaniment.

Can you elaborate on the collaboration between the musicians and the dancers?
We usually have performances where we get the musicians in the studios with us and it’s a first for both of us because we don’t know each other. We’re not great friends or connected. Through our movement and their playing, we can play with each other a little bit. Sometimes they’ll play one part a little slower and we have to listen and adjust to it, and maybe something really great happens in that moment. With every new musician that you meet, there’s a new possibility.

That’s so cool.
It is very cool!

In a normal studio setting, are you usually just following the music, the other dancers, or both?
You’re definitely supposed to follow the music primarily, but one of the great things about being in a studio environment with everyone is that you can watch your peers and if you see them do something you like, you can go, “Oh wow. I really liked the way they did that. I’m going to try to adapt that into my own dancing.” It’s not necessarily taking an idea from another person, it’s just really liking the way something looked and wanting to do something else like that. You can play off the music but you also have your peers. They inspire you and you inspire them. It’s a give and take.

Are you still able to do that in the online classes?
It’s a little harder because you’re trying to pick up the combinations from the teacher while also navigating the computer screen and technology. But at the end of class when we’re all wrapping up, I can look at the screen see everyone, and they’re all looking at the screen just like I am—it’s like, oh, we’re all still doing the same thing and we’re all still dancing together.

Do you have any suggestions for fellow students to get the most out of online learning?
What I think could help everybody is just staying in a positive mind space. Dancers definitely have a tendency to become really nitpicky about certain things, and then it’s not so much a positive experience anymore. It’s very harsh and critical.

Especially in times like this where we’re all just trying to do our best and get better, I think it’s really important to stay positive and remember that this is something you’re going to remember for a long time. It’s going to be an experience that you have that makes you grow. Everyone needs to take it one day at a time because it can be overwhelming.

What are you most excited about when you’re able to go back to campus?
Oh, I’m most excited to see everybody! You don’t realize how much you enjoy seeing everybody every day until you can’t. You’re at home like, “Man, I really wish I could see this person even if they really annoy me.” I didn’t realize how much I depended on people’s energy to make me feel a certain way.

Is there anything you want to touch on that I haven’t had a chance to get to?
The teachers are doing a really great job. They probably feel the same way. They probably miss us having in the studios. So it’s probably the same—it’s probably like, “Oh, you know what? It’s great to see their faces too.” It’s good to know that they’re going through just the same thing that we are.