In a typical year, the Stoughton High School Norwegian Dancers practice in person four days a week, where they’d learn 48 high-energy Scandinavian dances.
By the time Syttende Mai rolls around, students have easily practiced for hundreds of hours. But as of the end of December 2020, the 22 Dancers have only received three hours of in-person practice, as they’ve abided by COVID-19 guidelines.
“Normally, on our very first day of practice at the end of August, we would have put in four hours,” director Staci Heimsoth told the Hub. “It is so different.”
The Dancers started practicing in-person again Jan. 4, this time in small groups. The Dancers are trying to learn complex footwork, and partnered choreography with no contact, Heimsoth said. The group’s most frequent performing venues – elementary schools and assisted living facilities – have evaporated as younger students often have strict movement guidelines during the day, and older populations remain incredibly high-risk, accounting for 40% of COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S.
Some aspects of life before the pandemic remain the same, Heimsoth said.
The comradery and connection among the Dancers is still visible. Heimsoth has made visits to each Dancer, and they connect regularly through text messages and virtual meetings. Heismoth is inspired, she said, by how the students have handled the uncertainty of what is next.
Heimsoth adds that she’s even witnessed an increase in excitement in the first 6:30 a.m. practice.
“They come in and they are awake, they are energized and they are ready to go,” Heimsoth said. “I think they are just so excited to have something to do... It has been a joy.
“I leave practices in the morning and I am just happy,” Heimsoth said.
The Dancers are preparing for its upcoming virtual Norse Afternoon of Fun, which is scheduled to stream live on the Dancer’s Facebook page at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14. She said there will be speakers, performances and some new surprises.
Eagan Olson and Emma Sperle are the two student leaders this year, and assist with communication and mentoring other Dancers. The mentorship piece is significant – half of the 22 Dancers this year are new to the group, and have been learning footwork and gymnastics by studying videos of past performances.
Olson said his fellow students still appear to be having a good time despite having to learn the dances in a new way this year, and often away from others.
“If they are struggling, they are still keeping a positive attitude about it,” he said.
For Sperle, even though it has been disappointing to forgo performances and has been a challenge to constantly adapt to the health crisis, she knows the Dancers’ heritage is important to the Stoughton community.
“I’m hoping we get to do some (performances), she said. “I just love being a part of this group. We do so much good for this community, and the community looks up to us.”
Olson agreed and said the Stoughton community is always supportive when it comes to performances, fundraising, and audience engagement.
“When we perform in Stoughton during Syttende Mai or Norse Afternoon of Fun – we have people traveling in from sometimes Norway or out of town like New York or Texas,” Eagan said. “They all just enjoy it and everyone around our town does too. Seeing the kids during the performances is really enjoyable.”