A scene from Happy Feet Dance School’s performance of “If I Only Had a Brain.” Music by Harold Arlen, Choreography by Cece Bechelli.
Of all of the things we’ve had to put on long-term pause during the COVID-19 crisis, the limitations on our ability to gather in groups and shake those hips and tap those feet has been one of the most difficult, particularly for the array of local organizations that help kiddos with ants in their pants dance.

That includes PAAM, Roco Dance & Fitness, Marin Conservatory of Dance and Happy Feet Dance School, the latter of which turned its shelter in place-induced inability to perform much anticipated end-of-year shows at Marin Center into a virtual recital project. That project featured performers dancing in their homes all over town via Zoom and videographer Chris Haroff turning it into a series of 37 heartwarming, fun short films.

“Within a few days of the shelter in place order, we began the process of moving our dance classes online, hoping that this was just a short-term situation,” Happy Feet Artistic Director Cece Bechelli says. “But once it became clear that this was going to be a long-term shutdown, we quickly shifted gears and began work on a virtual recital project, creating a fun and memorable performance experience marking this very unusual year.”

The Happy Feet team devised a contact-free plan to get costume to their students, with parent volunteers picking them up in the school’s parking lot and delivering them to nearby families. They also modified the choreography and staging of the dances from their originally conceptualized form to one that would work virtually.

“Ultimately, we developed two virtual formats: one for our high school dancers and another for our preschool through middle school dancers,” Bechelli says. 

From their respective bedrooms, living rooms, and backyards large and small, Happy Feet’s high school dancers recorded and submitted performance videos, in costume, for each of their class dances. Haroff synchronized the dancers’ recordings to a master music file, and in select dances, depicted formations through creative editing.

“We held a special Zoom event for our graduating seniors and their families where we viewed their final dance footage together,” Bechelli says. “We celebrated our graduates’ many years at Happy Feet with our traditional senior remarks and an incredibly touching slideshow produced by Happy Feet parent Katherine Cope.”

They did the same for the younger students, weaving in other special moments from each class Zoom show including siblings, parents, and even the family pets joining in the fun. 

“While it is so much fun to see the complete virtual recital, it was equally rewarding to find a way to continue to connect with our students each week,” Bechelli says. “Keeping our students moving, learning, and enjoying dance with their classmates and teachers provided some normalcy and joy for all of us in the midst of the pandemic.”

The three dances shown below,” all choreographed by Cece Bechelli, included Lean On Me, with music by Michael Bolton, and was choreographed and taught via Zoom, exclusively during shelter in place for the graduating seniors. They also included Tornado, music by Timothy Graphenreed and Harold Wheeler, and If I Only Had a Brain, music by Harold Arlen, two dances from a multi-section Wizard of Oz Suite originally choreographed and staged for Happy Feet’s Marin Center shows. 

Here are the performances:

Lean On Me, Music by Michael Bolton, Choreography by Cece Bechelli
Tornado, Music by Timothy Graphenreed and Harold Wheeler, Choreography by Cece Bechelli
If I Only Had a Brain, Music by Harold Arlen, Choreography by Cece Bechelli