Young artists reflect on their first semester of college during COVID-19

Excerpt from The Los Angeles Times, Dec. 23, 2020
By Makeda Easter

Natalie Aronno is studying dance remotely at UC Irvine

A first-generation college student, Natalie Aronno chose to study dance at UC Irvine, a school close to her home in South Gate, because her tuition would be fully covered by federal aid.

Aronno recently wrapped up the fall quarter from home, where all her classes were held over Zoom.

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Her living room subs for a dance studio. The 18-year-old rearranged furniture, squeezing it into a corner, so she could take ballet and modern technique classes and a course called dance health and injury prevention. Throughout the quarter, she made a few upgrades to her space, including adding a piece of Marley dance flooring and a portable ballet barre to better mimic a proper dance studio.

“I ended up enjoying those a lot more than I expected, because the teachers really did pay attention to us, commenting on our technique, correcting us and really helping us grow,” she said.

In the fall, she also took writing, biology and a production class that pivoted from building sets and costumes to watching and writing about recorded live shows. One benefit to being entirely remote? Not having to commute to an 8 a.m. ballet class, she said.

Aronno’s living room also served as a space where she successfully auditioned and is rehearsing for a winter virtual show.

Like many students who began college remotely, the experience is not exactly what Aronno envisioned. She still mainly socializes with friends from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. “I don’t really talk to the people in my school right now,” Aronno said. “Unless we’re in class and we have breakout rooms.”

In high school, she was most excited about pursuing dance at the university level for the opportunity to learn from a new group of serious and passionate students.

“I was just looking forward to having a new group of people, but the reality is that I don’t get to share as much with them, and I don’t get to watch them as much as I usually would,” Aronno said. “That’s probably my biggest challenge, dancing alone every single day, and only being able to be with myself.”

Despite the challenges, and knowing that her winter and spring quarters will likely also be remote, she’s still happy she chose to study dance.

“My dance classes — even though they’re on Zoom and I do them alone, and I get tired of only being able to dance with myself — it definitely keeps me sane and brightens my mood every day,” Aronno said. “I don’t regret it at all.”