Seniors Meredith McMurray and Macey Schondel grew up alongside each other, but somehow never crossed paths. They both started ballet lessons at the age of four, danced in different studios in Northern California, did ballet all throughout high school, meeting the same people but never each other — that is, until they both found themselves at UP.
“I had wanted to form a sort of ballet club,” McMurray said. “As a silly freshman, I reached out to a whole bunch of people using GroupMe to see if anyone else was interested. . . We thought the club would be a fun way to kind of casually return to our ballet roots without having to take a ballet class all the time.”
McMurray and Schondel grew closer as they realized they had such similar backgrounds in ballet and both wanted to be able to dance outside of their busy schedules. Their original idea for the club lost momentum as they got caught up in their hectic lives as college students and stopped dancing. But during their sophomore years, they began the paperwork for a new ballet club — paperwork that wasn’t approved until March of 2020.
“We were so excited to have all this money, and we were gonna take people downtown to the ballet,” Schondel said. “And then literally right as everything went online was when we were approved.”
At first, Schondel and McMurray thought they could put it on hold and wait out the pandemic. But when they saw that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, they started to rethink how the ballet club could operate.
“We were like, ‘Okay, well, Zoom is working for the school classes, so it could work for us,’” McMurray said.
Since then, the two seniors have worked together to create an inviting space for dancers to connect online. Planning how Ballet Club would work was made easier because Schondel was taking the ballet class at UP at the time, and they both had a plethora of prior dancing experience. They were eager to step into their new roles as Zoom ballet teachers.
“One of the worst parts of going online was that we really wanted to take people to see the ballet, to see the Nutcracker and the classics,” Schondel said. “So we really have tried to find opportunities for people to watch online shows, which has honestly ended up being the most fun.”
The club does a variety of activities during their weekly Thursday meetings at 7 p.m. They watch ballets, put together playlists and exercises to do together, and talk about classes from other studios that are available.
“Some weeks we’ll do different themes, like Valentine's Day or Harry Potter, with music that fits with it,” club treasurer Natalie Green said.
McMurray and Schondel emphasize that you don’t need experience in ballet to come to the club. They alternate every week between beginner classes and more advanced classes. Some weeks, they watch shows online instead of dancing.
Because in-person ballet classes depend so much on being able to see what the dancer is doing with their body, the seniors have had to adapt to only showing as much as the Zoom screen allows. Because they live together, usually one of them will stand at a distance so that their whole body is seen, while the other comes close to the camera to explain the moves being demonstrated. But they can’t always see the other members in the tiny square that Zoom offers.
“Last semester, there was a dancer who could only show her head up, so we had no idea what was going on. But we were like, ‘You look so happy right now! You’re doing great!’” McMurray said.
And to McMurray and Schondel, the point isn’t to become world-famous ballet dancers; the point is to have fun dancing and exercising together.
“I think ballet is a pretty stress free way to move your body. Even the simple moves really require putting the energy in to do them,” McMurray said. “All of us have these New Year's resolutions to work out more or move your body more, and this is a great way to do it with people who aren’t judging you.”
Though they are both graduating seniors, McMurray and Schondel hope to see Ballet Club continue in person after this semester. Green, who is currently a junior, is looking forward to the ways Ballet Club can change when it’s in person.
“Hopefully we’ll be bringing in guest teachers from bigger companies and going to performances,” Green said. “Also, just having a class where we can really interact, maybe bringing in food and having time to just talk to each other about ballet.”
Ballet Club meets at 7 p.m. every Thursday. For more information on meetings, you can access their page on Engage.
Sadie Wuertz is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.