How COVID-19 Forced Me to Adapt to Online Teaching

Photo courtesy of Kerollis

I remember it like yesterday. Those days, when I could step to the front of my classroom and guide students through enchaînement—demonstrate the combination, offer tidbits of advice, cue my accompanist and walk around offering detailed corrections.

If you told me a month ago I would be forcibly holed up in my apartment as I led my first classes as a master teacher with Youth America Grand Prix, I might have looked at you like you had several heads. But when New York City began shutting down at breakneck speed, I knew I had to do something to protect my income. I dug deep into my toolbox and began developing online classes.

My first consideration was my prospective audience.

I teach ballet to a range of students at Broadway Dance Center and contemporary master classes as a guest artist for pre-professional ballet students across the country. I noted that a majority of the free livestreams were being taught at a company-class level. This meant my community of professionals were mostly taken care of at no cost to them. Many tuition-based programs also quickly rallied to continue training their pupils via applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype. Yet students without full-time studio affiliations and those who might want some flexibility from scheduled livestreams had not yet been taken into account. That group is who I decided to address.

Next up, it was time to build class content.

I decided to build classes for others like me living in small spaces. I focused on developing home barre and conditioning classes and decided to make them available online for longer than the 24-hour expiration of most livestreams. I also added stationary center exercises for those with more space.

From there, I pulled out my trusty Canon 70D (though an iPhone camera also suffices), set up a tripod in my sixth-floor apartment entryway and began filming myself executing combinations holding onto a doorknob.

Each segment starts with a verbal and visual explanation of the exercise followed by nuggets of guidance. Then, I turn on music using the Anytune app on my iPad and record myself performing the exercise.

While I am proud to say I have kept up taking class with Nancy Bielski at Steps on Broadway since retiring from performing in 2016, it has been a humbling experience dusting off my own technique to perform for an audience again. There is a certain comfort in studio teaching, where one gets to pick and choose when they show steps versus conveying information through marking or hand gestures.

I filmed all of the exercises in mini-segments to streamline the editing process.

The next step was to splice the clips together into a cohesive hour-long video. I have significant experience with Final Cut Pro, but got my start using the free iMovie app that comes on most Apple products. This time-consuming task involved cutting out extraneous footage and bloopers, adding titles and transitions and preparing a master file to upload to YouTube. YouTube tutorials are very helpful with this step.

It took me about two to three hours to edit and a little over an hour to upload to the site. It is important to note that I had to verify my account to upload lengthier content, a simple task requiring my phone number for a verification code. Altogether, it took about six hours for content to go live from concept to upload.

The response has been overwhelming.

I used social media and my mailing list to let people in my personal dance community know about my new content. Current offerings consist of classes in Basic Ballet (two series), Intermediate/Advanced Ballet (two series), and Basic Contemporary. To date, I have received more than 100 requests from dancers living as far away as Japan and Italy. I have received many generous donations, including one from a school that requested a link to share with their entire student body. I am so grateful for this generosity, because it will help me get through this period.

I feel lucky to live in a time where we can be physically distant, yet so connected. Of course, nothing can replace in-studio instruction. But I have a strong feeling the dance world is embarking upon a new era of learning.

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