At first, there is silence. Several performers stand like statues on the stage, waiting for the first beat of music to signal the start of their dance. As their breath quickens from nerves, they might be tempted to look out into the crowd, where their friends would normally be cheering them on.
However, this year is different — there is no cheering crowd.
Air Jam, a lip-synching and dancing competition, is one of Homecoming’s most popular events, said Amelia Lynas, junior advertising major and social media and publicity chair of the Homecoming Steering Committee, and it usually brings a packed house to Emens Auditorium.
This year, the competing teams pre-recorded their performances, which will be compiled and aired on the Ball State Homecoming YouTube page at 7 p.m. April 29.
“The efforts are way more on me to make sure I’m communicating with people even more … There’s extra posts, extra communication,” Lynas said. “I have to make sure that all my information is accurate before I post and just make sure that [the performers] have everything they need … It’s all digital, so that’s a huge part of my job.”
How to watch Air Jam
Air Jam 2021 will be broadcast on the Ball State Homecoming YouTube page April 29 at 7 p.m. Anyone can watch for free at that time or any time after.
Source: Ball State Homecoming Steering Committee
The performances will not include lip-syncing due to mask-wearing requirements. Another change from previous years is Air Jam will be free and exclusively on YouTube, giving incoming students the opportunity to experience Air Jam before they even set foot on campus.
One struggle in this year’s process was getting groups to participate, said Grace Belangee, senior exercise science major and Air Jam chair of the Homecoming Steering Committee. Last year, Air Jam had 20 groups, while this year, it only had 11.
“Organizations are in transition with their budget because there is a $100 entry fee for Air Jam,” Belangee said. “So, they’re like, ‘Well, we didn’t really plan out our budget to be paying this’ because, normally, Homecoming is in the fall, so they can see that really early on.”
Performers have also dealt with challenges when it comes to online Air Jam. For Sidney Milne, senior fashion merchandising major and Air Jam student leader for the sorority Sigma Kappa, these challenges included teaching a dance routine over Zoom.
“Sometimes, I would show my first half of my body doing the dance. Then, I would lower the computer down so they could see my feet,” Milne said. “Automatically, when I started teaching it, I was facing the camera, when, in reality, you want to see the back of the person. So, everyone started learning it opposite. Once we put that together, I started teaching it with my back facing the camera.”
Milne also addressed the challenge of performers needing to be 6 feet apart at all times, and she had to think about that while choreographing. She was also concerned about whether she’d be able to meet in person with her organization.
Despite the adjustments, one thing Milne remembers is how excited people are to go to Air Jam.
“You’d always hear people like, ‘Are you going to Air Jam? We should all go together.’ I just remember people building up that excitement,” Milne said. “Even when we would have our chapter meetings, the seniors would leave after chapter, and they’re like, ‘We have to race and change because we have Air Jam practice.’”
Kelsie Clayton, senior legal studies major and captain of the Code Red Dance team, said Air Jam has been part of Code Red’s traditions as an event where alumni come back to see the current group’s performance.
“I’ve never known another school to do something like this,” Clayton said. “It just brings all of Ball State together, and it kind of gives us something a little less formal to look forward to. Everybody is there for fun — no one cares if you’re silly onstage or if you’re making fun of yourself. It’s a different side of your peers you don’t always see.”
Belangee said Air Jam holds a special place in her heart because her sister was the Air Jam chair when she was an undergraduate at Ball State.
“I guess you’d call it following in her footsteps,” Belangee said.
With the difficulties of the 2020-21 school year, this event is being treated as a silver lining for some performers, with their view of the event ranging from bringing them together with others to being the final page in this chapter of their lives.
“We actually got to interact with other girls in our sorority … It was really cool to hang out with them for those two hours for practices and get to know each other,” said Nichole Eccles, junior exercise science major and Air Jam senior leader for the sorority Phi Mu.
With half of Phi Mu’s sorority chapter meetings on Zoom, in-person communication has been in short supply during this school year. Eccles said Air Jam has given people in her organization “some kind of normalcy” because they were meeting for practices and still getting to interact in person.
Meanwhile, Clayton views Air Jam as a special event that impacted her college career.
“It’s a good way to end everything because, my freshman year, the best experience was Air Jam, and it was right at the beginning. It really kicked off how I felt about Code Red,” Clayton said. “Ending that chapter on Air Jam is just really special because it wraps it all up in a neat little bow.”
Contact Elissa Maudlin with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ejmaudlin.