USC Kaufman moves Berlin Maymester online

May 21, 2020

black and white photo of Schlemmer costume

USC Kaufman students learn about Bauhaus dances and more in the school's Maymester.

On May 18, USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance students embarked upon the school’s new Maymester, DANC 399: Dance Capitals of the World. This 2-unit course was planned to take place in Berlin, Germany through June 5. Due to COVID-19, the Berlin Maymester moved online. It is running as an adapted version of the original syllabus through Zoom.

Maymester goals

The course explores the history of Germany along with its acclaim as a vibrant and diverse home for avant-garde dance and other art forms in Europe. USC Kaufman Professors Bruce McCormick and Thomas McManus teach the course.

“The goal is to familiarize students with various historical and cultural periods in 20th century Germany, so they can eventually incorporate this information into their personal practice,” said McCormick.

A modified approach

Since their original travel plans and in-person experiences were canceled, the Maymester had to adjust its approach. McCormick explained his eagerness to dive into the course topics including German expressionist dance, or Ausdruckstanz, and German cabaret. He also pointed out that with the Maymester becoming virtual, students remained interested in the adapted course.

“When we decided to make the course virtual, we weren’t sure how many students would stay on,” McCormick said. “We found that many of their other summer plans had been canceled. They were excited to take this deep dive and find connection with their classmates, even through a virtual platform.”

In preparing for online instruction, the professors looked for creative ways to incorporate information originally designed for in-person engagement.

“When we were planning the in-person study abroad, so many of the sites spoke for themselves,” McCormick said. “It was a challenge to decide what information to include and how to best package that information. But, I think we have come up with some great solutions.”

Course roadmap

During the Maymester, students will participate in an immersive online experience through lectures, readings, viewings and writing assignments. Guest speakers will play a large role in the course as well. Anna Till and Christina Ciupke, two Berlin-based artists, will speak and workshop with USC Kaufman students. Stephanie Troyak, a dancer with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Germany, will also be working with students.

Dancers will create websites to house their reflections on their experience as they travel virtually to explore Germany’s robust culture. The Maymester will culminate in an artistic project inspired by the historical and cultural tenets from the course.

Dancers are adaptable by nature

Despite changes resulting from COVID-19, the course forges on as an examination into the artistry of Germany. It also demonstrates the versatility of the program’s instructors, who quickly and successfully modified this in-person learning experience.

“Fortunately, we as dancers are adaptable by nature. We are always searching for solutions even if they don’t appear at first glance,” McCormick said. “This transition has warranted a lot of preparation with lecture materials. However, it has also been a continuation of creating educational experiences that are rich and engaging.”

By Brigid Murphy