With COVID-19 hitting the St. Olaf campus in spring 2020, Pause dances were canceled indefinitely. Some students feared that this would be the end of them for good, while others were excited to be rid of them. This fall they return with a few adjustments for safety.
Pause dances are a long-standing tradition for Oles since the creation of the new Pause Mane stage when Buntrock Commons opened in 1999. The previous Pause included a bowling alley and was located in what is now the Center for Art and Dance.
Pause dances usually consist of DJ sets and last a few hours with water, snacks, and most importantly, dancing. Before COVID-19, they happened once a month and were run by the After Dark Committee (ADC) and Student Activities Committee (SAC) with help from the Pause security and tech teams. This year that will continue just like before but with the addition of some COVID-19 safety precautions such as a mask requirement and a lower capacity.
“There has been conversation for years about Pause dances and the environment that they create,” said Associate Director of Student Activities Brandon Cash ’16. He made clear that this conversation has never included an official proposal to cancel Pause dances.
Concerns about dances have been focused on safety with main factors being crowds, light, loud music, and alcohol consumption before and after the dance. To ensure more safety, Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN) advocates and the St. Olaf EMTs are required to be at the dance. Every dance has a food element and ample water available. There is also a trained security team monitoring those in the Pause and doing security checks before students are allowed to enter. Students are allowed their ID, phone, and themselves.
“From a professional standpoint in the OSA [Office of Student Activities], we’re working with our student programmers to say: what sort of spaces are you looking to cultivate? How do you cultivate a space where students feel comfortable, they can have fun, they feel safe, etc.?” Cash said.
Due to the strain on Pause tech staff and the difficulty of controlling an outdoor space, the dances will be inside for the duration of the year after one outdoor dance in September. Moving inside means more intentional COVID-19 planning.
“The intention right now is that Pause dances are coming back. There are still some questions and we’re having some conversations with the epidemiologist, Ben Miller, that St. Olaf has been working with on air handling and number of people and the time in space,” Cash said.
As a student space on campus, the Pause Mane stage has the best air turnover on campus. It was built to accommodate airflow as a concert venue. The capacity this year, due to COVID-19, has reduced to around 730 people.
“COVID is still just so unpredictable,” said ADC coordinator Sandra Chimutsipa ’23 about the requirements of masks in the Pause dances. “This is just us asking everyone to take responsibility and do what you can because if you don’t play your part it’s gonna end up being bad for everyone.”
Another focus of the OSA this year is making sure there are other events set in place for students who don’t necessarily enjoy the Pause dances or want a different type of weekend experience. The OSA puts efforts into creating whole weekend experiences on top of just the dance.
“Your students in SAC, ADC, and all the other branches put in a lot of time and effort — Pause dances don’t just happen,” Cash said.
Chimutsipa recommends for Pause dances this year that people arrive early to account for the lower capacity, wear a disposable mask, and stay home if they have any symptoms, including cold symptoms. She also expressed that she and all of ADC would appreciate student feedback so that they can continue to make each dance better.
“[Pause dances] just add on to our social life. It shows how much we are a community and that we bring everyone together to celebrate cultures through music and dance,” Chimutsipa said.
The first indoor Pause dance since spring 2020 was Saturday, Oct. 9, at 10:30 p.m.