Teacher Voices

To My Beloved Dance Community: In the Most Uncertain of Times, Our Heart and Soul Flourishes

An alumna of Dance Spectrum in Buffalo (now a nurse in Boston) joins a Zoom class led by her favorite instructor in the hospital break room. Photo courtesy of Dance Spectrum

All that I have ever thought our dance community could be, we have become as we have faced the COVID-19 crisis. Thousands of studio owners and dance teachers are carrying on in any way they can. Kids are continuing to dance—even if it's in their living rooms in front of the TV. Our community has not stopped dancing or spreading the joy that it brings to all.

Dance teachers have been called to play an exceptional role right now. We have been challenged to step up to the plate and become the mentors, leaders and teachers required for these times. When the kids gather for their online classes, they want time to "hang out," because what they really need most is to be with those who understand them best. Dance offers them a sense of security and normalcy. How cool is that?

Scrolling through social media this spring, I witnessed some spectacular and moving moments that continue to remind me of the power of dance.

  • I saw a dancer performing on the grass in front of a picture window at a nursing home. The patients all watched with huge smiles on their faces as they witnessed one dancer sharing her passion no matter what.
  • Yesterday, I received pictures from a hospital, where a ballet dancer/nurse was doing her ballet barre with many gathered in the spaces around her, wanting simply to be distracted by the beauty of her art.
  • There are studio owners who are secretly deferring tuition for children whose parents cannot afford it. Invisible donors (i.e., other parents) are picking up the tab for other families' dance tuition.
  • Toddlers are kissing their TV screens because they love seeing their dance teachers.

This, my dance friends, is who we are, and I am so proud.

Most inspiring for me has been to observe egos being set aside. Studio owners who previously had been consistently on guard with each other are now holding Zoom meetings to strategize how they can work together to keep the kids dancing and their businesses alive. Honestly, I see this as a dream come true. I have always felt that it is the unique personality of each of us that attracts our particular clientele. The studio up the street has a personality, too, although it's different, and they also attract the clientele that is seeking their vibe. I love it when sometimes being allied with the studio up the street becomes the very way to survive.

I know that many of you reading this have been struggling and have experienced loss. It may be hard to see the upside—but hang in there. I'm convinced there is a bright light at the end of this tunnel, and that light is the connection we have with each other.

This is no longer about the school that wins the most awards or the studio that brags because they are the largest in the community. I think we need to be done with that for a while. This is about expressing the emotions of life through the art of dance in any way possible. Not only is that who we are, it's what we need for our own personal survival, guaranteed

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@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

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As Kerollis acknowledges, getting the business of you off the ground ("you" as a freelance dance educator, that is) can be filled with unexpected challenges—even for the most seasoned of gigging dancers. But becoming your own CEO can make your work–life balance more sustainable, help you make more money, keep you organized, and get potential employers to offer you more respect and improved working conditions. Here's how to get smart now about branding, finances and other crucial ways to tell the dance world that you mean business.

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American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

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