Higher Ed
Courtesy Benny Simon

It's safe to say that the 2020 fall semester was a learning experience for college dance departments and students alike.

While Zoom and socially distanced dancing had their obvious frustrations, professors met many of them with creative solutions that not only served as satisfactory replacements for "normal" learning, but also gave students valuable new perspectives that will last beyond the pandemic.

Dance Teacher rounded up four of our favorite examples:

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News
Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Ford Foundation; Christian Peacock; Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson; David Gonsier, courtesy Marshall; Bill Zemanek, courtesy King; Josefina Santos, courtesy Brown; Jayme Thornton; Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness

Since 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards have celebrated the living legends of our field—from Martha Graham to Misty Copeland to Alvin Ailey to Gene Kelly.

This year is no different. But for the first time ever, the Dance Magazine Awards will be presented virtually—which is good news for aspiring dancers (and their teachers!) everywhere. (Plus, there's a special student rate of $25.)

The Dance Magazine Awards aren't just a celebration of the people who shape the dance field—they're a unique educational opportunity and a chance for dancers to see their idols up close.

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Teachers Trending
Tiler Peck teaching her Turn Out With Tiler class. Photo courtesy Peck

In March, most professional dancers suddenly lost the vast majority of their work. Left with lots of newfound free time—and, in many cases, a hole in their budgets—many took to Instagram, Zoom and other platforms to share their knowledge with summer intensive students, adult beginners, preschoolers and everyone in between.

For some, it was a chance to continue flexing teaching muscles they'd been developing over years. But for others, it was an unusual first-time teaching experience.

Dance Teacher talked to five pros about what it was like to go from dancing full-time to teaching virtually—and what they learned along the way.

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News
Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?


When the Pandemic Hit

In mid-March, when competitions first began seeing cancellations, charting a path forward felt like taking shots in the dark.

"What made this thing so frustrating and scary was that we didn't know what we were dealing with," says Shari Tomasiello, CEO of Headliners. "We didn't know if it was going to be for a week, two weeks, a month. We didn't know if we would be able to reschedule events, or when we would be able to reschedule events."

While Tomasiello completely canceled some events, about 90 percent of her studios said that they wanted to move forward with competing, so she rescheduled as many as she could. Many of these eventually had to be canceled too—Headliners ended up holding just 12 of its 34 planned competitions. One of those canceled events was Headliners' Nationals, which accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the company's annual revenue.

A young masked dancer standing against a Headliners backdrop holds a certificate that says "Headliners Judge's Award"

A recent Headliners competition.

Photo courtesy Headliners

With only two venue refunds in hand, plus losses from airline tickets and trophies that will become outdated, issuing $400,000 in refunds for the studios who requested them was a big financial hit for Headliners—a major portion of its operating budget. (Though the company did, thankfully, receive a PPP loan.) But for Tomasiello, working with each studio to come up with a solution was essential to maintaining Headliners' reputation. This meant a combination of partial refunds to cover graduating seniors, partial refunds combined with credit towards a 2021 event, and full refunds.

Rhonda Marchant, president and founding director of Encore Dance Competition for the Stars, took a similar approach, offering her studios four options: receive a 120 percent credit for a future event; receive a 40 percent refund, 60 percent in credit and an extra 10 percent bonus credit; receive a 75 percent refund, 25 percent in credit and an extra 5 percent in bonus credit; or receive a full refund.

While the full refund was the most popular option at first (Marchant ended up doling out $250,000), as the panic died down, more studios saw the benefit of receiving credit for future events. Marchant, too, is grateful for her $90,000 PPP loan, and the fact that most of her venues gave her refunds or credits—but she also spent $50,000 on awards that would become outdated.

Not all competitions could afford to give refunds, creating a trickle-down effect that put studios in a difficult position. "I want to be compassionate to those competitions who weren't able to offer refunds," says Marchant. "But you have to look at the other side: What about those dance families and studios? A lot of these dance studios had to close for months, and they aren't getting any income, either."

Though Marchant had to cancel 15 competitions—including many of her Regionals—she was able to hold a version of her Nationals in Charleston, SC in July. "It wasn't the grand finale we had planned for," she says, and Encore DCS ended up losing money on the event due to a flurry of last-minute cancellations and studios using credits from canceled Regionals. 2020 ended up being Encore DCS's slowest season in over six years, forcing Marchant to lay off all part-time staff, and to file for unemployment herself.

The Reality of Pandemic Competitions

The few competitions that have gone on as planned since March have looked quite different from the norm.

Some—like Youth America Grand Prix, New York City Dance Alliance, Starbound and Break the Floor—have happened virtually. Tomasiello emphasizes that they aren't moneymakers, just opportunities to keep studios and dancers engaged.

Rather than holding a virtual competition, Lissette Salgado-Lucas and David Lucas, founders of Shake the Ground, launched a free online workshop series for their studios, and got to work formulating a plan for a potential in-person event.

In mid-June, Shake the Ground was able to host its first competition since March, in Jacksonville, Florida, with a whole new structure: studio blocks. Each studio had its own time slot in the venue, where the dancers performed all their routines in succession with a limited audience of one family member per child. Shake the Ground also livestreamed the events, as well as the awards ceremony, and trophies were mailed to the studios after the fact. (This was a popular setup for studio owners and parents, who only had to be present for a few hours instead of an entire weekend.) Shake the Ground was able to hold four rescheduled events in this format, including its Nationals, and several other competitions have implemented similar procedures.

A masked woman holds a thermometer up to a masked dancer's forehead, backstage at a Shake the Ground competition

A recent Shake the Ground competition.

Photo courtesy Shake the Ground

The extra effort Shake the Ground put into safety measures—including temperature checks, mandatory masks and hour-and-a-half cleanings between studio blocks—was noticed and appreciated by studios. But it wasn't cheap: While the industrial fogging machine, thermometers and endless bottles of disinfectant were a significant investment, the bigger cost has been the revenue lost from being able to accommodate approximately half of the studios Shake the Ground could with a regular competition; just enough to break even. (The company's revenue for the year is about 50 percent down, plus it issued $80,000 in refunds.)

But Salgado-Lucas and Lucas are confident they've landed on a model that works, at least for now. They have a full 2021 schedule planned with strong registration so far, and are lining up backup venues (like outdoor spaces and hotels) in case theaters have to close again.

Lucas says that surviving 2020 has prepared Shake the Ground for whatever eventuality 2021 brings. "We understand the environment now," he says, "and know that we'll be able to quickly adjust to it."

Dance Teacher Awards

Who knew that a virtual awards ceremony could bring our community together in such a powerful way?

Last night, we celebrated the annual Dance Teacher Awards, held virtually for the first time. Though it was different from what we're used to, this new setting inspired us to get creative in celebrating our six extraordinary honorees. In fact, one of the most enlivening parts of the event was one that could only happen in a Zoom room: Watching as countless tributes, stories and congratulations poured in on the chat throughout the event. Seeing firsthand the impact our awardees have had on so many lives reminded us why we chose to honor them.

If you missed the Awards (or just want to relive them), you're in luck—they are now available to watch on-demand. We rounded up some of the highlights:

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Dance Teacher Awards
Erin Baiano, courtesy NYCB

Missed the 2020 Dance Teacher Awards? Watch them on-demand here.

Most of us know Wendy Whelan for fearlessly approaching difficult tasks, whether creating a role in a new ballet, undergoing hip surgery (on camera, no less), embarking on a self-produced touring project or taking on a brand-new leadership role at New York City Ballet, where she was a principal dancer for 23 years.

But what recently, uncharacteristically, scared the now associate artistic director of NYCB? Teaching her first Instagram Live ballet class from her second home in upstate New York during the pandemic, which she says gave her a panic attack.

"I was insecure about the connection I was going to make," she says. "I was insecure about not being able to see the dancers. I was afraid I was not going to be able to feed every person. I wanted to be a perfect teacher and fulfill everybody's needs perfectly. And I had to throw all that out."

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Dance Teacher Awards
From left: Wendy Whelan, photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy NYCB; Deborah Damast, photo by Jaqlin Medlock, courtesy Teachers College, Columbia University; Stephanie and Bo Spassoff, photo by Tiffany Yoon, courtesy The Rock School; Kim Black, photo courtesy Black; Patricia Dye, photo courtesy Dye

Missed the 2020 Dance Teacher Awards? Watch them on-demand here.

The Dance Teacher Awards are here, and this year we're going virtual. The upside of a virtual awards ceremony? We can invite all of you!

Though we'll be in a new setting (Zoom!), the purpose of the Dance Teacher Awards remains the same: celebrating outstanding educators for their contributions to our field.

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Studio Owners
Melanie Gibbs mailed her students "love packages" with items like bean bags. Photo courtesy Gibbs

There's no question that dance studios have adapted their in-person classes to online in creative and business-savvy ways. In the past months, we've learned that online classes are a necessary and valuable way to keep students dancing and studios running. Many studios may choose to continue online learning even as they are allowed to reopen in-person, either as a supplement or a plan B.

But Zoom fatigue is real. If your area is highly impacted by the virus and you are unable to reopen anytime soon, you'll need to find other ways to engage your students that don't involve staring at a screen. Offering offscreen activities can demonstrate to your studio families that the value you provide can't be contained by an electronic device—and ensure that your students are having a dynamic and meaningful dance experience.

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