As COVID-19 forced state after state into some form of lockdown this spring, most studio owners realized right away that they needed to evolve quickly—or else watch their enrollment plummet. Online classes became the key to business continuity, but with so little time to adapt material to remote learning and train faculty members on new technology, there was little room for finesse. But that's what Pam Simpson focused on first with her 600-student studio, Forte Arts Center, in Morris and Channahon, IL. She knew she needed to predict pedagogical issues that might crop up with Zoom dance education before they happened and offer solutions to keep students happy—and enrolled. And she knew the key to that was to invest in training her staff.
For Shanna Kirkpatrick, owner of Chara Christian Dance Academy, the key to retaining 96.5 percent of her 1,000-student enrollment through COVID-19 has been communication: regular e-mail updates, mass studio text messages, personal phone calls and—perhaps most significantly—following up with Zoom no-shows.
Since March, hundreds of dance majors have been using platforms like Zoom to continue their educations, dancing from the safety of their homes as coronavirus has swept the nation. What many educators initially hoped would be a temporary setback—a few weeks of online learning before a triumphant return to in-person classes—has turned out to be a new way of life, with distance learning essential well into the summer.
As department heads look toward the fall term, the decision of how and when to return to dancing together is at the forefront of their minds. Here, three dance department heads share how they're approaching the decision.
A lot goes into crafting a successful Zoom class. You can't simply download the app and launch into your usual syllabus. Is your teaching space set up properly? Are you wearing an outfit that will pop on-screen? These and other factors can make or break your students' experience.
Commercial performer, choreographer and master teacher Dana Wilson recently produced a video aimed at helping dance teachers effectively use Zoom. Wilson herself was a Zoom early-adopter, using the app for nondance meetings, and was quick to transition to it as an educator, hosting invite-only classes for studios she'd worked with in the past. (Wilson has also been teaching for New York City Dance Alliance's Virtual Dance Experience during the pandemic.) Within weeks of her first Zoom sessions, she says, "I started getting asks from studio owners to teach their teachers." Wilson's 21-minute video is chock-full of words of wisdom for educators making the jump to online training. Here are a few takeaways.
Like most educators, I have been teaching online since early March. My undergraduate Dance and Culture course was relatively easy to deliver remotely (as long as I could pre-record lectures while my son was taking a nap), but my tap classes? Not so much.
This is because tap is a percussive dance form. Sound matters. You can't just mute your students and hope for the best, as you can in many other dance techniques. And so I sat down (virtually, of course) with three seasoned pros to get the lowdown on teaching tap in the age of social distancing.
Q: In this period of economic uncertainty, my family is looking at our budget from every angle. Summer enrollment at the dance studio is now—but no one is sure when we'll actually be able to head into the studio. I want to support small businesses like our dance studio, but I also can't help but wonder: Are virtual classes worth it?
Relocating your work routine from the dance studio to your home can pose some serious challenges (after all, the bedroom isn't exactly the ideal setting for teaching grand allégro). So, if you're struggling to find your groove in the virtual classroom, know that (1) You're not alone, and (2) You're on a steep learning curve right now, so be patient with yourself.
We spoke with three dance educators—Michael Waldrop, the associate artistic director of the jazz & contemporary trainee program at the Joffrey Ballet School; Allegra Romita, a program administrator and adjunct professor in the dance education department at NYU Steinhardt; and Brandon Burnett, a former Dance Theatre of Harlem artist and adjunct dance professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County—who've picked up a few best practices while teaching online classes from home over the past month. Here are their tips.
On Wednesday, March 18, I was supposed to return to Juilliard and teach Pilates after a two-week spring break. Instead, I rolled a mat onto my bedroom floor, logged in to Zoom and was greeted by a gallery of 50 small-screen images of young ambitious dancers, trying to make the best of a strange situation. As I began class, I applied our new catchphrase: "Please mute yourself," then asked students to use various hand gestures to let me know how they are coping and how much space they have for movement. I asked dancers to write one or two things they wanted to address in the sidebar, and then we began to move.
This is our new normal. In the midst of grave Covid-19 concerns, dance professors across the country faced university closures and requirements to relocate their courses to the virtual sphere. Online education poses very specific and substantial challenges to dance faculty, but they are finding ways to persist by learning new methods of communication, discovering untapped pedagogical tools, expanding their professional networks, developing helpful new resources and unearthing old ones.