These days, it’s easy to get caught up in the flu panic. But don’t fret. While a dance studio—like any school—is at a high risk for illness outbreaks due to the number of people interacting in an enclosed space, there are smart ways to prevent the spread of germs. Follow these tips to learn how to protect your studio.
1. Make the studio warm ’n’ toasty. “Remember that warming up the body properly and keeping it warm will make the immune system stronger and more able to ward off bacteria or viruses,” says Natalie Caamano, a certified sports nutritionist and dance instructor at the Garden State Ballet in Rutherford, NJ. Keep an eye on the thermostat, remember to turn the heat on well before the first class and remind staff to begin every class with a 10- to 15-minute warm-up. Also, encourage students to wear cozy cover-ups for the first part of class and when arriving at and leaving the studio.
2. Scrub your space spotless. High-trafficked areas are breeding grounds for germs, so take action to keep your studio clean. “Wipe barres down at the end of every class,” advises Dr. Rebecca Clearman, a former dancer and current director of the Personal Physician Group in Houston, TX. “Wipe down anything people touch—door handles, telephones, mirrors, mats, sinks, toilets, class props.” Dr. Clearman recommends placing disinfecting-wipe dispensers in handy spots around your building. Keep hand sanitizer gel and Kleenex readily available inside each classroom, as well.
3. Wash, wash, wash those hands! The number one defense against catching colds is to wash hands with soap and warm water several times a day. Keep antibacterial soap and paper towels on hand in the bathrooms, and be sure to remind all students to cleanse hands before and after class. “We have signs posted over our sinks about hand washing and how to do it properly,” says Caamano, who suggests telling younger students to sing “Happy Birthday” twice through to ensure proper hand-washing time.
4. Sometimes not sharing is caring. It’s OK to teach children not to share some types of personal items, say our experts. “During flu season, dance students shouldn’t share anything—towels, water bottles, snacks, ChapStick,” says Dr. Clearman. Doing so puts the entire class at risk for spreading sickness through simple hand-to-hand or hand-to-surface contact, especially if sweat or saliva is involved. Repeat this information weekly to your classes.
5. Lighten attendance policies. With viruses like H1N1 becoming widespread earlier this year, it’s best to be flexible about attendance this winter. “If you notice someone coughing and sneezing, send them home. And have a specific place where sick children can rest apart from the other students while waiting for their parents to pick them up—one kid will get everybody sick,” says Dr. Clearman. But, it’s important that sick students aren’t penalized for their absences, she adds. Be reasonable about tuition costs, and consider holding additional auditions or rehearsals if a number of students miss important ones.
6. Keep parents in the loop. A studio handout or e-newsletter on germ-fighting tips is an excellent tool for teachers to communicate with parents during flu season, says Karlyn Grimes, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist in Boston, MA. “A newsletter makes the dancers and their families feel cared for and important,” she adds. An informative poster on the studio bulletin board or walls (download free posters from www.flu.gov), or a website announcement can serve the same purpose. Parents will notice your concern and appreciate your flu-season preparedness and competency.
7. And don’t forget to take care of yourself! Never underestimate the power of basic healthy habits, says Grimes. A well-balanced diet, exercise and plenty of sleep certainly help ward off sickness for physically active people. “Taking a multivitamin will ensure you are getting more cold-fighting nutrients such as vitamin C, which keeps your immune system strong,” says Grimes. “But remember, a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables full of disease-fighting antioxidants gives you the complete nutritional package.” DT
Debbie Strong is a health editor and dance teacher in New York City.