Teacher Voices

How COVID-19 Has Changed Dance Studios for the Better

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?

Teachers in the same town, who had previously made a choice to avoid each other, are working together. They share survival tips, strategize their openings and, most important, they support each other. Discovering that we need each other is bringing us together, and it is happening in small towns and big cities across the country.

We are not spending our weekends in auditoriums being compared to one another, and neither are our dancers. That is not to say that we do not grow and learn from the competitive experience—it has fueled the quality dance education that we all have experienced for the last couple of decades. This time has shined a light on the value of respect for everyone who shares our passion, even if they are our competitors.

Students and their families are seeing dance teachers in a new light. Teachers who were unable to go to the studio have brought movement to thousands of young children in every way possible—virtually, in parking lots and outdoor parks, and the list goes on. Those kids have a new appreciation for their teachers; they see their strength and look to them as mentors and leaders, not simply as the person whose job it is to make them great technicians.

Dance teachers have acquired a new confidence! Although it was not by choice, they are no longer technically challenged when it comes to new software to keep their classes going. Many have let go of their inhibitions to become storytellers: motivational speakers who can deliver a sense of support to the families of their dancers. There is a new understanding that teaching dance is about more than the steps.

Together we can be the best we can be by continuing to support each other, and sharing our knowledge and experience. As we lift each other up, we can explore new perspectives for teaching, business and our mutual love for the art.

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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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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Teachers Trending

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."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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