Higher Ed
Charles Anderson (center) in his (Re)current Unrest. Photo by Kegan Marling, courtesy of UT Austin

Given the long history of American choreographers who have threaded activism into their work—Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, Donald McKayle, Joanna Haigood, Bill T. Jones, Jo Kreiter, to name a few—it's perhaps surprising that collegiate dance has offered so little in the way of training future generations to do the same.

Until now, that is. Within the last three years, two master's programs have cropped up, each the first of its kind: Ohio University's MA in community dance (new this fall), and the University of Texas at Austin's dance and social justice MFA, which emerged from its existing MFA program in 2018. These two programs join the University of San Francisco's undergraduate performing arts and social justice major, with a concentration in dance, which has been around since 2000.

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Studio Owners
Megan McCluskey, courtesy Lown

Looking back to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's clear that owners rallied admirably to shift in-person offerings to online—with very little time or support, in most cases. At the very least, your studio families have gained confidence in your ability to bounce back from any emergency.

"Our studio has navigated all of this with grit and grace," says Misty Lown, owner of Misty's Dance Unlimited in Onalaska, Wisconsin, and More Than Just Great Dancing!, an affiliation of 250-plus studios. "If they have confidence in the way we handled this, they'll have confidence that we can handle any future challenges."

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Studio Owners
Getty Images

COVID-19 has made it clear that an emergency fund, or a reserve of money set aside as a financial safety net, is no longer a luxury but a now-more-than-ever necessity. And yet, while the standard advice is for businesses to have enough saved to cover at least three months of operations, a 2015 study from the JP Morgan Chase Institute showed that half of small businesses only have enough cash to last less than a month.

Back in March, while many studio owners were likely wishing they had an emergency fund to help them survive the pandemic, Jessica Zamarripa was deciding not to touch the fund she'd spent the past nine years—the lifetime of her Laredo School of Contemporary Dance in Laredo, Texas—building. Her reasoning was simple: Emergency funds are for emergencies, and while COVID-19 has been a challenge for her studio, it has not warranted depleting that fund.

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Teachers Trending
Zhenya Plyasunova, courtesy Miracle

When I first interviewed Stephanie Miracle, the University of Iowa visiting professor was headed into spring break—which quickly became a Zoom crash course, as the university migrated all of its classes online. The key parts of Miracle's teaching philosophy—establishing community and relationships, building awareness of the space around you—suddenly needed brand-new consideration and planning. "Taking that part of my curriculum into online teaching was really challenging," said Miracle, in a follow-up interview conducted after the spring semester's end. What she eventually came up with was characteristically thoughtful: She paired students with accountability partners each week, so that they might work on assignments together; asked dancers to journal about their experiences however they preferred—from bullet points to vlogs; and recorded audio lessons, so that students could take their class experiences outside. "Teaching on Zoom often felt like being in a cave—spatial memories were hard to create," says Miracle. "This brought a different kind of humanity to the experience."

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Studio Owners
Genevieve Weeks, founder of Tutu School. Courtesy of Tutu School

As the founder of Tutu School, a dance studio business with a successful franchise model that has grown to 37 locations throughout the United States, Genevieve Weeks was in a unique position for a studio owner at the start of COVID-19. Not only did she have to make sure her own, original Tutu School locations weathered the virus' storm, she also felt a duty to guide her franchisees through the tumult.

Though she admits it was a particularly grueling experience for her at the start—her husband at one point was bringing all of her meals to her at her laptop, so she could continue working without pause—the appreciation she's felt from her franchisees is palpable. "What I've heard from the Tutu School owners is that they're grateful to be part of a franchise system right now," says Weeks.

So how does a franchise survive something like COVID-19? Here's what got Weeks—and her franchisees—through the first few months of the pandemic.

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Studio Owners
A Boca Dance Studio student takes virtual class. Photo courtesy of Gibbs

As August swiftly approaches, you're likely fine-tuning the details of what your fall schedule will look like. More than ever, much of your decision-making will have to be tailored to studio parents—some of whom may be eager to return to in-person instruction, and some of whom may be understandably scared.

"Having three studios across two counties in the midst of this crisis, we're really seeing the full spectrum," says Melanie Gibbs, owner of Boca Dance Studio, ProAm Dance Studio and Weston Dance Academy, all in Florida. "We have people who are firmly in the camp of, 'Get these kids out of my house—they're climbing the walls, and they want to get back into the studio with their friends.' We have other clients already telling us they won't be back to in-person classes this season—even if the school districts reopen—though they're happy to continue virtual training."

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Teaching Tips
Gesel Mason with David Roussève. Photo by Michael Taylor, courtesy of Mason

With the fall semester rapidly approaching and university plans coming into focus, higher ed faculty members are likely drafting (and re-drafting) their syllabi—and wondering what a full semester's worth of online or hybrid online/in-person dance courses will even look like.

Take comfort in the fact that dance professors across the country are in the same boat, and that the higher ed dance community is an unfailingly generous one. We spoke to five educators about what worked well for the second half of the spring semester—and what they're planning to do differently this fall.

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Studio Owners
Getty Images

Small businesses across the U.S. are keeping careful tabs on their states' reopening schedules and making changes to their business models accordingly. As pandemic-related guidelines and timelines evolve, it's important that you have a multilayered plan for the gradual reopening of your studio—one that prioritizes your dancers' and staff's health, reassures families that it's safe to return and allows you to operate your business to the fullest extent. Keep in mind that flexibility will be key: It's possible your state may experience a spike in new cases of COVID-19, requiring your studio's plan to take a step or two backward before it moves forward again.

Here are four crucial steps to preparing your studio for a flexible, responsive and well-considered reopening.

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