How the Pandemic Is Reconnecting Dance Alums to Their Home Studios

Mattie Love with Dance Impressions students in Farmington, Utah. Photo courtesy of Love

Tara Larsen was seated at her desk, working from home à la the pandemic, when a notification for an Instagram Live from her old dance studio popped up on her phone. Having moved to Bellevue, Washington, to work at Microsoft, it had been years since she had taken class at The Pointe Academy in Highland, Utah. It was the perfect opportunity to both see old friends and get up and move—two things the coronavirus has severely impacted. She hopped on.

"It was so fun to do battements and leaps across the floor, even if my neighbors below might not have loved it," Larsen says. "I got to comment on the killer combo, and hear the instructor (who actually used to dance on my team) talk to me through the screen and say she missed me."

With studios offering virtual classes—often open to anyone on Facebook or Instagram—many alums (both pros and those who no longer dance) have found themselves in similar positions to Larsen: returning home to the place that shaped them as both artists and individuals.

"The Pointe was where I learned to work hard," Larsen says. "Getting on that IG Live reminded me of how I felt when I first discovered that kind of work ethic. It meant a lot to me to be reminded of what shaped my technique, what I love about dance and how I look at it today."

The Dance Club in Orem, Utah, held a virtual alumni class in which 70 former dancers participated. "It was like reconnecting with family, with my children," says Dance Club studio manager and co-owner Allison Thornton. "Many said it was like coming home." Though some professional dancers took class online to refine their technique in the interim before the dance industry reopens, for many, it was simply a chance to exercise, and feel connected to others while physically isolating. "We all need a combination of both right now," Thornton says. "The first portion of class was spent catching up and hearing where everyone is now."

But it's not just virtual classes that are calling dancers home. As parts of the country open up, studios are seeing an influx of alumni—often dancers who fled large cities to ride out the pandemic with family—in their physical classes, as well. Once Utah began its phased reopening in mid-May, TDC returned to the studio with new COVID guidelines. Since then, successful alumni like Jacki Ford, Ali Deucher and others have shown up to learn from their hometown heroes, or to teach master classes they wouldn't have otherwise been available for.

Similarly, Mattie Love, a recent ensemble member of the Wicked national tour, returned to Farmington, Utah, to teach and choreograph at her childhood studio, Dance Impressions—something her schedule doesn't generally permit. The experience intensified Love's passion for teaching. "The dancers were so receptive in class," she says. "They have been in their living space for so long, they are so eager to be in the studio again." Love herself was also eager to be there. "COVID has sparked creativity in my choreography that I didn't even know I was capable of."

As the dance industry continues to grapple with what the future will bring, a return to the studio is a bright spot studio alumni can continue to look to. "This is a beautiful time to flourish," Love says.

Teacher Voices
Photo courtesy Rhee Gold Company

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a shift in our community that is so impressive that the impact could last long into our future. Although required school closures have hit the dance education field hard, what if, when looking back on this time, we see that it's been an incredible renaissance for dance educators, studio owners and the young dancers in our charge?

How could that be, you ask?

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Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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