Just as teachers were getting comfortable with teaching virtual classes, many studios are adding an extra challenge into the mix: in-person students learning alongside virtual students. Such hybrid classes are meant to keep class sizes down and to give students options to take class however they're comfortable.
But dividing your attention between virtual students and masked and socially distant in-person students—and giving them each a class that meets their needs—is no easy feat.
Dance Teacher asked four teachers what they've learned so far.
Audio and Video Setup Are Crucial<p>Making sure your virtual students can see and hear everything—in a way that doesn't interfere with learning in the studio—requires careful setup.</p><p>"Since we all wear masks, it's sometimes hard for Zoom people to hear," says Seattle-based dance teacher Kirsten Cooper. To avoid having to always get up close to the computer microphone, Cooper suggests teachers invest in a wireless mic.</p><p>In his classes, Broadway Dance Center instructor and Common Ground co-founder Justin Boccitto wears Bluetooth headphones so he can hear when his Zoom tap dancers unmute themselves for a question. "I thought it might distract me, but I have two minds going now. Half of my mind is on the people in the room and then I'm constantly thinking about the people on Zoom," says Boccitto.</p><p>Dance coach and former Rockette Rhonda Malkin tried a few different camera angles during class and asked her virtual clients what they preferred. Her current setup has gotten positive feedback. "I put the camera in the back of the room so that the dancers could see everyone, including myself," she says. "They would see the back version of me and then the mirror version of me."</p><p>Some teachers have had success with using <a href="https://www.dance-teacher.com/virtual-dance-class-technology-2646952345.html" target="_self">two cameras </a>at two different angles. Or, to get a shot of the whole room, teachers can use a wide-angle camera, like a GoPro.</p><p>No matter what setup you choose, it's probably going to require you to get to the studio earlier than normal to get comfortable and prepared, says Cooper.</p>
Rhonda Malkin's hybrid class
Include Zoom Students in Conversations<p>With some students in the studio and some on Zoom, it's especially important to make sure virtual students feel included, not like an afterthought. "I always have everyone in the room say 'Hi' to everyone on Zoom when we start and when we finish, just so it feels inclusive," says Cooper.</p><p>When Boccitto has his in-person students form a tap freestyle circle, he pulls the camera into the circle to incorporate the virtual students. "I'm trying to make the experience for the people on Zoom as authentic towards being there as possible," he says.</p>
Kirsten Cooper teaches a hybrid class
Divide and Conquer<p>At New York Theatre Ballet, a second instructor watches over the virtual dancers in a separate room and gives them corrections, says founder Diana Byer. With this system, the in-studio instructor can focus on the dancers in the room while dancers on Zoom still receive individual corrections.</p><p>Similarly, Boccitto has an assistant focus on the in-person students while he attends to the virtual ones. "I think that personal attention goes a long way for the people who are on Zoom," he says.</p>
Have Modifications in Mind<p>While some students have limited space at home, others have a whole studio to dance in, so offering multiple versions of combinations is key. For across-the-floor combinations, Cooper either gives virtual students a stationary variation of the in-person step, or asks them to break the phrase into multiple parts. "I say to them, 'Just do one eight-count in your space and then go back and do the second eight-count,'" she says.</p><p>At New York Theatre Ballet, instructors give the same combination to both groups of students but give a different traveling pattern to those on Zoom.</p>
Use Asynchronous Videos for Individual Feedback<p>Malkin has virtual students send her videos of themselves doing combinations from her classes. "What I say to virtual students is, 'Learn the material that I teach that day, and then video yourself doing it so that I can give you feedback personally,'" she says. This way she can focus on giving feedback to her in-person students during the class rather than constantly scanning the Zoom screen, resulting in more individual attention for everyone.</p>
Ryan Heffington is kneeling in front of his iPhone, looking directly into the camera, smiling behind his bushy mustache. He's in his house in the desert near Joshua Tree, California, phone propped on the floor so it stays steady, his bright shorty shorts, tank top and multiple necklaces in full view. Music is already playing—imagine you're at a club—and soon he's swaying and bouncing from side to side, the beat infusing his bones.
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.
Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.
As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.
Congratulations on your recent appointment! What does this hiring mean to you?<p>For me, it's kind of the pinnacle of my after-dancing career. To join a wonderful, large organization with such a fantastic reputation in the industry is really rewarding. To have used all my experience with San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet and NDI—all of that comes together to give me the experience I need for this.</p>
Courtesy Ballet West
What drew you to this particular opportunity?<p>Ballet West feels like completing a circle. I started at San Francisco Ballet as a student at the end of the Harold Christensen regime. I was hired into the company by Lew Christensen, and Ballet West founder Willam Christensen would come out and visit his brothers often. I had the chance to meet him, and was even able to come to Utah to stage Michael Smuin's <em>The</em> <em>Tempest </em>at one point. It feels like family.</p>
What are your goals for the school?<p>I'm particularly excited about building up our youth—the future generation. It's important that the base of our company pyramid is broad. These dancers are more than just our future company members, they're our future audience, musicians, donors, staff. There is something for everyone. The things these young dancers learn will give them the ability to focus, to understand spatial awareness, to recognize their own physical capabilities, self-confidence, work ethic and critical thinking. These skills will allow them to become the best workers in any discipline.</p>
Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West