Behind the Screen of Menlo’s Virtual Dance


Penelope Stinson

More than 100 students attended Menlo’s virtual event on Saturday, Jan. 30, which featured DJ Will Gillz and comedian Joel Bryant. Staff photo: Penelope Stinson.

Penelope Stinson, Assistant Opinions Editor

Dancing alone in your room on a Saturday night might not seem conventionally “cool.” However, the virtual semi-formal event hosted by Menlo on Saturday, Jan. 30 tried to break that norm. 

The event was a 90-minute dance party with different games, Kahoot contests and breakout rooms where students could dance to different music genres, all hosted by DJ Will Gill [William Gilbert], with a comedy set by comedian Joel Byrant. Students logged onto the call and were greeted by neon-technicolor backgrounds and catchy pop songs. The night started off with a scavenger hunt, followed by a comedy set, breakout room dancing and a contest for a PlayStation 5 at the end. 

The dance was organized by Coordinator of Student Activities Frances Ferrell with the assistance of members of student council. Ferrell got the idea for the virtual event after attending the online Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) where they hosted an event featuring Gilbert. After a few students attended and praised the online event, she reached out to the SDLC event coordinator who was able to put her in contact with Gilbert. She received an idea from student council member Lindsey Ball to hire a comedian for the event as well. According to Ferrell, the pricing of the event was reasonable for how much the school would normally spend on the annual semi-formal dance.

After setting the plan in motion, Ferrell had an hour-long call with Gilbert, which she described as a sort of audition. “He said he had a formula; he talked about how every seven minutes, he wanted to be doing something different. [Gilbert] created this kind of unique virtual experience given our circumstances, so I thought that was really interesting,” Ferrell said. 

When asked about his planning process, Gilbert described it as partially a secret between him and his team. “We don’t really discuss it, but I will say this: what we do is we look to set up games, and then we just step back. I’ll explain how a game goes, and then everyone else engages and interacts and feels a sense of connectivity,” Gilbert said. Throughout the event, Gilbert stays in constant communication with his team, especially his tech support, which he noted is crucial for having a successful online event. 

Gilbert expressed that his events are based on a lot of improvisation and quick thinking. “Always, [at] every single party, things change at the last second, so it’s best that I just improvise,” Gilbert said. Lately, Gilbert has been doing mostly corporate events and estimated that his main surge in school-sponsored events came in June to September of last year. According to Gilbert, Menlo was notably engaged in the event, and he believes that students were truly enjoying it. 

As a way to incentivize people to attend the dance, Ferrell was able to secure a PlayStation 5 from a middle school parent who worked at Sony and put one on hold for the school. However, there was still skepticism from many students and concern from Ferrell as to whether or not the dance would actually be a success. “I didn’t think anyone would go, I was expecting people with their cameras off,” sophomore Montse Contreras said.

“I was definitely nervous, and that’s why I was promoting it a lot through email because you never know. I think everybody was kind of taking a chance [going to the event]. I really didn’t know how it was going to play out,” Ferrell said. 

Around 120 students attended the event, according to Ferrell, and student response to the dance was generally positive. “It was kind of fun to just be there and dance around. It was awkward at first, but then you kind of just think, ‘I guess we have to make the best out of everything,’” sophomore Sam Sellers said. Senior Class President Sareena Sandhu was similarly skeptical about the success of the event, but she noted that one of the main aspects she believed made it appealing to students were the prizes being offered.

If Ferrell were to do the event again, she likely would have considered cutting out the comedian from the set as she realized it was difficult for him to connect with the students over Zoom. However, she did appreciate that the comedian kept a positive attitude throughout the night. “I wasn’t nervous that he was going to say anything inappropriate,” Ferrell said. Although she considered the event a success, Ferrell is hoping that the need for online and virtual events will begin to dwindle so that she can begin to plan more in-person events. 

A few groups of students logged on to the event with people other themselves in the frame. The original email sent out advertising the dance instructed students to join the event from their own living room. However, sprinkled throughout the singular students on their own screens were groups ranging from two to five people, many not following social distancing protocol. In response, Dean of Students Tony Lapolla sent emails to the students who he had seen not following COVID-19 restrictions during the event, according to Ferrell.