Get your groove back (virtually) with the COPH’s Dance Factory

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Back in January, before COVID-19 hit the United States, the USF College of Public Health hosted a talent show and benefit concert as part of its 35th anniversary celebration year. During the talent show, Dr. Joe Bohn, assistant professor, director of community engagement and deputy director of the DrPH Program, held a short dance lesson for faculty, staff and students. This lesson set the stage for what would eventually be the virtual Dance Factory.

Dr. Joe Bohn leading a group of students in a west coast swing dance lesson and a performance during the COPH’s Talent Show and Benefit Concert (Photo by Caitlin Keough, taken pre-COVID).
Dr. Joe Bohn leading a group of students in a West Coast swing dance lesson and a performance during the COPH’s Talent Show and Benefit Concert (Photo by Caitlin Keough, taken pre-COVID).
Dr. Joe Bohn demonstrating a West Coast Swing dance with his dance instructor at the COPH's Talent Show and Benefit Concert (Photo by Caitlin Keough, taken pre-COVID).
Dr. Joe Bohn demonstrating a West Coast Swing dance with his dance instructor at the COPH’s Talent Show and Benefit Concert (Photo by Caitlin Keough, taken pre-COVID).

After the university shut down for COVID-19 in March, a number of students reached out to Bohn asking if he could teach some virtual dance lessons. This prompted him to start hosting informal weekly dance lessons on Friday nights for those interested in learning more about dance with social distancing in the forefront.

As a student of West Coast swing for the last three years, Bohn was well versed in partner dances. He spent the first couple weeks of his dance lessons teaching the dances that he was familiar with when his graduate assistant, Stephanie Hogue, relayed a suggestion provided by one of her friends to teach some country line dances.  

“I told her that was a great idea given the social distancing measures and how all dance studios were shut down. So, I started looking up country line dances and picked out one and started figuring out how to do it,” Bohn said. “After that first country line dance class, we stuck with it and we added new dances with variations each week.”

Then in July, Bohn and Hogue developed the Dance Factory which lasted eight weeks and consisted of a six-class line dance program where they went over six different patterns.

“I have to say, I love line dancing! It’s so much fun and I have two left feet. It’s really easy to pick up which is surprising because like I said, I am not the most graceful dancer. It’s also been really fun being involved in picking the music that we dance to as well,” Hogue said. “It’s been great when we’ve had the classes and played a song that someone really loves. It’s great to hear people’s enthusiasm for the music and the different dances that we’re doing.”

Screen shot of one of Dr. Joe  Bohn’s Dance Factory sessions (Photo by Anna Mayor).
Screen shot of one of Dr. Joe Bohn’s Dance Factory sessions (Photo by Natalie Preston).

In this new setting, Bohn and Hogue made a set of field work notes to keep track of lessons learned, technology challenges and what worked well to evaluate the class design and anecdotally see if it was having an impact on participant’s well-being. After gathering this data, they planned another set of classes, this time lasting six weeks.

“It started off as something very informal and fun and we decided this might be nice to write a paper on our data!” Hogue said.

After all of their work, Bohn and Hogue’s new article, “Changing the Game: College Dance Training for Well-Being and Resilience Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis” was accepted for publication in the Health Promotion and Practice Journal.

“We’re hoping that once that’s published, we can get the word out a little bit more about the program as well and get more participants involved,” Hogue said.

Bohn and Hogue have also partnered with Teresa Anthony, visiting clinical instructor in the USF Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, speech language pathologist and director of USF Speech Language Clinic and Bolesta Center, to continue their research with Dance Factory. With her experience designing and implementing a telehealth program and engaging with members of the community virtually, Bohn and Hogue hope that they can get participants more comfortable with sharing their cameras and knowing that they are not going to be judged in this space.

“This is the space where you’re able to let loose and have fun. So, we’ve been discussing with communication sciences for ways that we can kind of promote that atmosphere in the class,” Hogue said. “Not technically like forcing the camera issue but trying to get people to share their screens or like at least unmute and share their feelings on how they think the class is going.”

As a student and faculty member at USF, Anthony said that she has two “homes” – her faculty home in communication sciences and disorders in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences and her student home in the COPH.

“It is fun to witness these two homes collide to develop a new and diverse community,” Anthony said. “I am hopeful this collaboration and community building will continue, in more ways than one.”

Anthony is hopeful that participants learn the benefits gained from dance at home while engaging with others remotely.

“All of us have experienced a social distancing and isolating phenomena that has the potential to lead to some alarming health consequences,” she said. “I am hopeful this program can place people on a different, healthier, and more physically active trajectory, despite the social distancing nature of the COVID pandemic.”

Hogue said that the Dance Factory has helped her personally during the COVID-19 crisis and social distancing era.

“I live alone, so I felt very isolated from everyone at the beginning of the pandemic. I had all this extra free time but couldn’t do anything and it got very boring at times. When Bohn said that he would teach dance lessons, I thought it would be a great time to learn something new,” Hogue said. “Having it on Friday nights, took the place of what I would have been doing if the pandemic wasn’t going on and it was also a great way for me to meet some new people!”

The whole experience has been a great learning process for Bohn as well.

“I’ve never taught dance before. I knew how my dance teacher would build a dance almost like building blocks. So, I would teach a beginner’s pattern, then novice pattern and continue to add on to that. Anyone from advance dancers to beginners can join,” he said.

Throughout the sessions, Dr. Bohn said this experience has made him a stronger presenter and speaker.

“It’s given me more command of the class and increased creativity and confidence, which really came through with my doctoral level class this past summer where I introduced a series of Fireside Chat sessions and ended up being one of the best classes I’ve taught while at USF. This was also during a time when many have been impacted (myself included) by the social distancing requirements and effects of isolation for months due to the COVID-19 crisis,” he said.

Anthony wanted to encourage more people to participate.

“I recognize that this program probably sounds a little foreign or out of the ordinary for most of us. Line dancing in your living room? With complete strangers watching on Microsoft Teams? I hear what you are thinking, but I suggest you reconsider. In the words of Dr. Brene Brown, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” Although Dr. Bohn has never required anyone to turn on their camera, I would venture to guess that attending this remote dance lesson will take some courage for people to show up and let themselves be seen participating in something that is new and different,” Anthony said. “I encourage you to try this fun outlet to exercise safely at home while engaging with a new community of people – it might surprise you how much you enjoy it!”

The next set of sessions begin on Friday, October 16 at 7 p.m. and will go for six weeks.

For more information and to get involved please contact Dr. Joe Bohn at jbohn2@usf.edu and Stephanie Hogue, renee31@mail.usf.edu.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health

Bohn, J., & Hogue, S. (2020). Changing the Game: College Dance Training for Well-Being and Resilience Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis. Health Promotion Practicehttps://doi.org/10.1177/1524839920963703