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How This Dancer Created the Go-To Hub for Virtual Classes in One Weekend

Photo by Jason Hill, courtesy of Disenhof

When dancer Katherine Disenhof found out her company, NW Dance Project, would be shutting down indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic (on Friday the 13th, no less), she immediately went in search of ways to stay connected and in shape.

At that point, a few virtual class opportunities had emerged, so Disenhof decided to aggregate them on an Instagram account called Dancing Alone Together.

She launched the account that Monday, and by mid-week she'd also created a website. Now, just a few weeks later, Dancing Alone Together has 22K followers—and virtual classes are more than just a growing trend, but a phenomenon that has reshaped the dance world at an unprecedented speed.


The way that Disenhof anticipated just how much Dancing Alone Together would be needed during this time almost feels clairvoyant. "It was just a quick reflex reaction to what was going on," says Disenhof. "I didn't anticipate the amount of classes that were going to balloon." The website, which accepts submissions for virtual classes, now posts over 30 new classes every day, and Disenhof has expanded Dancing Alone Together to include dancemaking prompts and ways for dance artists to stay in community, as well as opportunities to watch dance performances online.

While professional dancers make up a large portion of Dancing Alone Together's audience (and many dance educators are pointing their students towards it as part of new online curriculums), Disenhof says she's also noticed people who haven't danced in years tagging their old dance friends to hop on a virtual class together.

But Disenhof also made Dancing Alone Together for people like her mother, a doctor who typically takes adult ballet classes at a local studio. "She doesn't have the time to scroll through her social media feeds for livestream class info, but has been able to use Dancing Alone Together to quickly connect with classes that bring a sense of normalcy to her day," says Disenhof. "I hope there are other health professionals out there who are using this project for some relief."

As for Disenhof (whose experience in arts administration and graphic design helped her launch Dancing Alone Together), the project has quickly become her new full-time job. She's put some parameters in place to keep the volume down—no fitness or wellness classes, only one class per teacher or studio per day, live classes only—but it still requires the majority of her day.

Ironically, Disenhof has been so busy managing Dancing Alone Together that she hasn't had time to take many classes herself. When she has the opportunity, she opts for classes taught by her NW Dance Project colleagues, or Gaga classes on Zoom. Dancing Alone Together has something for everyone, though—from Bollywood to tap to improvisation to disco.

What will happen to Dancing Alone Together once we're able to dance in person together? Disenhof wants it to become irrelevant. "I hope we will all go back to our studios more connected," she says. "Maybe it'll bring more people to the studios."

But for now, Disenhof is prepared to keep Dancing Alone Together going as long as needed. "There's a lot of people hurting out there, and they are turning to dance as an outlet," she says. "It's really beautiful to see people making the best of this situation."

Music
Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

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Teachers Trending
Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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News
Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

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