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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.

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

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If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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