Teaching Tips

Ways to Creatively Adapt and Retain Revenue When Moving Your Curricula Online

Photo courtesy of the Academy for the Performing Arts

“Keeping agile" has taken on a whole new meaning for every studio owner and dance instructor since the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shuttered studio doors for safety's sake in March. Now is the time to show parents how you bring normalcy and positivity to their children's lives so you can retain tuition revenue until your doors reopen for business as usual.

Relearning Classroom Time Management

Without question, it's difficult teaching dance classes online: space constraints, sound and lighting issues, random pets or family members wandering by, even a lack of motivation from frustrated students who just want things to be “normal." Patience and planning ahead is key—this is new for everyone involved.

The biggest learning curve for most instructors has been discovering that classroom time management is completely different for virtual lessons. “Parents are expecting a full class, but that requires a lot more preparation and actual content when you are not with the students physically," says Hillary Parnell, owner of the Academy for the Performing Arts, an 800-student studio based in Apex, NC, which is focusing on a consolidated class schedule delivered via Zoom. “Navigating how to give feedback and corrections also has been a little tricky, but it's become easier as the teachers and the students are getting more comfortable with the technology."

Adam Holms, co-founder and artistic director of the Norwalk Metropolitan Youth Ballet in Connecticut, has 150 students, and he has opted to do limited classes weekly through social-media livestreaming (some from the roof of his Queens apartment), prerecorded classes housed on YouTube and live classes on Zoom. His dancers can film themselves performing specific combinations and he will provide individualized feedback, and he shares newly discovered resources with his advanced students. “We're encouraging them to take advantage of all these amazing opportunities of taking a free class with a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet or classes from Youth America Grand Prix," he says.

Showing Parents How You're Creating Normalcy

Self-quarantining as an adult is difficult enough, but it's even more so for children and young adults who thrive on schedules and spending time with their friends. “Our message through all of this is: 'We are here to offer some much-needed normalcy,'" says Dana Adames, co-owner and artistic director of The Talent Factory, a Rhode Island studio with two locations and about 550 students. The studio created individual Zoom accounts for its 20 staff members so they could continue teaching their regular classes. “We thought live classes were the best way to go to continue the live interaction with students," co-owner and general manager Hugo Adames says. “We believe this was a much-needed element to give parents what they are paying for."

Joy Weisbord has a 13-year-old daughter enrolled at The Talent Factory, and she appreciated how quickly the studio adapted to virtual learning. “Just days into this whole new reality, students are thrilled to be interacting virtually with their teachers and peers again and getting back to their training," Weisbord says. “Dana herself joined in to greet the kids online, welcoming them and overseeing that everything went smoothly."

So, if you can help remind parents that you are helping their children maintain some structure and balance while helping them stay physically fit during this unprecedented period, you're continuing to illustrate the value that you bring as a business that truly cares about its clients. “We're reminding them how important it is to stay active while at home, and how seeing classmates can be really beneficial to their mood and emotional well-being," Parnell says. “Of course we are going to do our very best to offer as much critique and technique as possible, but at this point, I think normalcy and sense of community are more important. I would consider it a win if everyone was able to simply maintain their skills and stay fit until we are back in the classroom."

Tech and Practical Tips

If you haven't checked with your insurance provider yet about whether you are covered for virtual classes, make that call first on your to-do list.

Password-protect any classes you offer if the platform allows for it. You don't want hackers or predators to affect your operations right now.

Know your audio settings! “Background noise reduction is not your friend," says Hugo Adames of The Talent Factory. “Your voice and your music are two different noises. You need them both to run a class. Reducing one would be counterproductive, so you want to disable those settings."

Staying Upbeat and Having a Little Fun

Try to focus on the positive and the opportunities this situation is bringing dance studios right now. “As the studio owner, everyone is looking to see what your attitude is about the whole situation," Parnell says. “Your staff, your parents, your dancers will take your lead, so if you are upbeat, optimistic and enthusiastic, that energy will come back to you."

Be creative and show your dance family how excited you are to continue to offer classes. Washington, DC's Joy of Motion Dance Center, for example, embraced the launch into virtual learning and created a permanent business model within nine days by launching its Joy Online Learning Library. Enrolled students have immediate access to pre-recorded, password-protected lessons, and the studio has also added on-demand classes the public can rent for $7 for a 24-hour period through Vimeo, with the instructors receiving some of the proceeds from each rental.

It's also the perfect time to have a little extra fun with social media or other digital platforms.

Recreational students at Academy for the Performing Arts are participating in fun photo/video challenges and bonus classes like yoga, fitness and arts & crafts. The littlest dancers are tuning in for daily story time or sing-alongs. The company dancers are getting one-on-one goal-setting meetings, journaling sessions, group hangouts and CLI Studios classes.

The Talent Factory is offering classes to siblings, parents and alumni, including yoga, hip hop and cooking classes.

Norwalk Metropolitan Youth Ballet has several photo/video challenges for its dancers, including first arabesque in your home, dance with your pet and plank during the length of your favorite pas de deux.

Joy of Motion Dance Center created a Slack channel just for parents and its adult students, providing a whole new way to communicate, build community and provide information. About 100 people have joined and are paying a $10 monthly fee. So far there has been a coffee chat, a happy hour and a Netflix movie night to watch Center Stage, and there are plans to have faculty Q&A sessions.

“Everyone is seeking that connection that they normally feel, so there is a sense of loss right now," says Mary Chase, executive director of Joy of Motion Dance Center. “So we're really trying to bridge that and find the best ways to meet people where they are right now."

Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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