The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted several different areas of Mercer’s campus life, and social distancing has changed the way many of Mercer’s arts, sports and clubs function. Also affected are Mercer’s dance teams, which have had to make major adjustments in their returns to practicing and performing.
When everything shut down in March 2020, Mercer Rangreli, Mercer’s competitive Bollywood Fusion dance team, was in the middle of competition season.
Angel Shah is a senior at Mercer who has been a part of Rangreli since her freshman year and currently serves as a manager for the team.
The group was started in 2015 and, according to Shah, has grown from performing strictly on campus to placing in competitions.
“It was definitely really sad because we were definitely at an uphill progression,” Shah said. “Last year was definitely our highest point competitively.”
Mercer’s Ballroom Dance Team had also just finished a competition at Georgia Tech and was preparing to attend more when the lockdowns began.
”We weren’t able to go to any other competitions that semester, and we had to cancel club altogether because nobody knew what to do,” Noah De Mers, a junior at Mercer the president of Mercer Ballroom Dance, said.
In returning to campus for the 2020-2021 school year, social distancing requirements have been particularly difficult for these dancers.
“It’s definitely been incredibly hard considering the fact that dance is so active, and a huge part of social distancing is having to be able to be apart and wearing masks,” Vidya Ganapathy, a senior at Mercer and a manager of Rangreli, said.
Rangreli used to meet and practice very frequently, so the team had to make major adjustments to their schedule this year.
“A lot of the times we used to practice almost seven to eight hours a week, and not being able to meet for that time really limits the ability that we’re able to come together and work on things,” Ganapathy said.
Not being able to dance with his team members has been the hardest part for De Mers.
“I think the most challenging thing is the fact that we aren’t able to have contact with each other, which prevents us from being able to utilize the dance floor,” De Mers said.
The Ballroom Dance Club consists of around 15 members who meet once a week.
There is also the Ballroom Dance Team, which is made up of five members within the club who, according to De Mers, are “interested in wanting to pursue dance a little bit more than just on a weekly basis and wants to be involved in collegiate competitions throughout the year.”
De Mers has been involved with both the club and the team since his freshman year.
The Ballroom Dance Club was formerly restricted to Zoom meetings, but it has since received approval from the university to hold in-person, socially-distanced meetings.
De Mers said that the virtual Bear Fair made it difficult to recruit new members and that the contactless dance has caused some challenges for the club and the team.
“I think because of the fact that we aren’t having contact dancing, that did dwindle our numbers,” De Mers said.
Rangreli has been holding practices over Zoom and offering in-person workshops with under five people to ensure safety. The team is also not participating in competitions as of now.
Both teams are beginning to get back into their groove and are even starting to perform again.
“We have definitely started slowly integrating things back up and doing things online through Zoom practices, meeting up in really small groups (...) and wearing our masks while performing,” Ganapathy said.
In March, the Ballroom Dance Team participated in a competition, and Rangreli performed at MU Miracle’s Bearthon event.
Both De Mers and Shah think that, despite everything, they are now closer to their teammates and are able to focus more on what they all love: dancing.
“Instead of just practicing to compete, we started practicing more for enjoyment and bettering our own personal technique and bonding with the team as a whole,” Shah said.
De Mers said that there’s some advantages to having a smaller team.
“With the smaller numbers, we’ve been able to hone (our skills) a little bit better and allow that one-on-one operation than if we were to have a full team,” De Mers said.
De Mers and Ganapathy hope that their teams will be able to return to normal practice and competition soon.
“I’m hoping with vaccines and all, that next year — I won’t be here — but that it will be a brighter future for the rest of the team and that we can get back out there again,” Ganapathy said.
“I do hope that in the future, with the vaccines coming out and everything, that hopefully we will get back to normal and that we will be able to actually have clubs like we were able to in the past,” De Mers said.
To learn more about or get in contact with these teams, visit MU Rangreli and Mercer Ballroom Dance on Instagram.
Samantha Homcy ‘23 is a junior at Mercer majoring in journalism and criminal justice. She has been working at The Cluster since her freshman year and served as Social Media Co-Manager during the spring 2021 semester. She is currently a practicum intern with WMAZ-TV. In her free time she enjoys music, community service, watching TV and finding new ways to get involved on Mercer’s campus.