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UNC arts groups are remaining optimistic in spite of canceled performances

UNC Chalkaa, an Indian-American fusion dance group on campus, is just one student group whose practices, performances and competitions were cancelled because of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Anoova Guthikonda.

When spring break came around, UNC’s dance and music organizations had concerts and gigs on the horizon. Members parted ways confident that once they returned, they’d hit the ground running.

However, they didn't know that after spring break, there would be no return.   

CDC advisories regarding COVID-19 have led to widespread cancellations of public gatherings – including these groups’ upcoming performances.

As UNC goes virtual, student organizations can facilitate meetings via web conferencing platforms like Zoom. But live video chat isn’t ideal for group musical activity.

“It's very difficult for us to rehearse together virtually,” said Ashley Darr, president of the Carolina Ukulele Ensemble. “And I don't think that it's the same kind of experience, especially with video lag.”       

Darr said the ensemble has considered several options by which to conduct its spring concert remotely, including editing together a montage of solos or broadcasting their performance with Zoom.

“What I think will end up happening is that if things settle down in the summer, we might all come back together, find a space somewhere in Chapel Hill to hold our concert,” she said.   

While on-campus classes were in session, the ukulelists met and rehearsed each Wednesday. Darr said they’re disappointed that they’ll no longer have that space blocked off in their week to hang out, play music and enjoy themselves.

Darr said that in order to support the Carolina Ukulele Ensemble right now, the best thing the Carolina community can do is connect with them on their social media. 

"And just to be on the lookout,” she said. “Support local artists who are, you know, suffering during this time."

Punjabi dance team Bhangra Elite, too, has considered employing virtual means to keep up their operations, said public outreach chair and captain-elect Aayush Purohit.  

The group earned acceptance to Bhangra Blowout, the collegiate championship, this year. While they had placed there in previous years, Purohit said, they had never come in first – and he thought this season’s group might have achieved that milestone.

Bhangra Blowout was canceled. But Bhangra Elite aims to keep its members dancing by pulling segments from other dance teams’ videos for weekly challenges, Purohit said.

"We'll post that in our group and be like, 'Hey, if y'all are willing or want to, try doing this segment and record it and submit,'" he said. 

Purohit said that hopefully by August, Bhangra Elite will be able to dance for the community again. Until then, people can watch many of their past performances on YouTube, he said – all they have to do is Google ‘UNC Bhangra Elite.’

Indian-American fusion dance team UNC Chalkaa also has performance videos from this season available to stream, said Anoova Guthikonda, the group’s internal manager.  

Chalkaa had one competition to go – and this one would have helped determine whether they would have advanced to either of two national-level competitions. Now that their season is cut short, Guthikonda said, they’re using this time to transition next year’s executive board. 

"We are still sticking it out, sticking together,” she said.

Guthikonda said Chalkaa stays in touch via FaceTime and group chat, and the Desi Dance Network has helped keep the nationwide South Asian dance community connected. She said that although they’re apart, members of Chalkaa are still working to grow as dancers.

“We're doing the best we can, making the best of a wild situation,” Guthikonda said.     

Unlike Chalkaa and Bhangra Elite, Star Heels Dance Team doesn’t compete. President Ally Washington says Star Heels is an arts showmanship group designed to help members grow as dancers and involve themselves in the UNC community.

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Although they aren’t missing out on a competition season, Washington said the Star Heels still had several exciting performances ahead – at the Zeta Tau Alpha Franklin 5K, the UNC Dance Marathon and the team’s own spring showcase.  

“We'd love for the Carolina community to still reach out and be optimistic about opportunities for the fall, or what it looks like to maybe postpone those events that we would have loved to support and be a part of,” she said.

Washington said that while the team is unable to perform the routines on which they worked so tirelessly, they’re considering holding virtual one-hour dance classes for fun.

But she said she’s disappointed she’ll no longer have spontaneous opportunities to build personal relationships with the dancers.  

“I'm definitely going to miss the late-night, 11 p.m. practices where we all are absolutely delirious and just dancing around the SRC, crazy and in a time crunch trying to learn new dances,” she said.  

Washington said GroupMe has helped the team stay in touch and figure out how to move forward.

The singers of Tar Heel Voices are also working to stay connected, said Tyler Haugle, the a cappella group’s co-business manager.  

"We have a GroupMe, you know, like all of the organizations do,” Haugle said, “and since we are a smaller organization, you know, everybody is just super close. So that is always poppin', that group message.”   

Haugle said Tar Heel Voices is coming off the momentum of placing second at a quarterfinal of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella and moving on to perform at the ICCA South semifinal.

“Critically, we were having our best year yet, so it was kind of sad for it to end,” Haugle said.

The group released an album, “Ignite,” at the end of January. Haugle said it’s one of Tar Heel Voices’ best albums to date. It’s available on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and Google Play.

After clinching first place at ICCA quarterfinals and second place at the South semifinal, the Tarpeggios had planned to professionally record their winning set and release it as an EP, President Gayathri Raghavendra said. But COVID-19 circumstances have made this difficult. She said if things calm down over the summer, the Tarps might gather and record then.

“We would love for people to look us up on YouTube,” she said. “We just listed our semis video. We are really, really proud of it."