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In mid-May, more than 100 students and their parents pulled through the parking lot at Hunter’s Dance Studio in Wilson to pick up T-shirts that celebrated the studio’s recital. The recital’s theme was “Aladdin,” and at the bottom of the shirts were the words, “A Whole New World.”
“It really is fitting because it really is a whole new world for all of us, and we are all having to adjust as best we can,” said studio owner Hunter Peebles.
Recitals and on-site classes were put on hold as the COVID-19 pandemic swept over the country, but that did not stop local dance studios from continuing to teach and motivate their students. Studios used Zoom, Facebook and other forms of telecommunication to teach a variety of classes and keep students engaged and inspired.
“In mid-March we started recording classes and then discovered Zoom,” said Patricia Bradshaw, owner of Dance Studio B. “Now, my classes are all Zoom, but it can still be tricky. Sometimes the music is ahead or behind, but all are recorded, posted and then they can watch their classes online on a Facebook page set up strictly for the students.”
Dance Studio B’s clogging and hip-hop classes are also doing live Zoom videos, although one teacher who works with more advanced, more intricate and larger classes videotapes himself, polishes the videos in editing and then posts them for the students to watch.
Barrett Hildebrand, owner of Brand Performing Arts Center in Wilson, said that her studio was so close to its recital date that it was actually difficult to do Zoom classes.
“We did Zoom classes for about a month once we were told we had to stop (holding onsite classes),” Hildebrand said. “We were so close to our recital date that finishing up choreography for their routines was difficult. We gave the younger kids more breaks and came up with different ways to engage them — had them do different things so we could keep their attention. We came up with different ways to engage with stuffed animals and using whatever they had at home as a resource.
“We had the older kids separate their routines for recital and pick out parts to focus on,” continued Hildebrand. “I would come in to each Zoom class and serve as a second eye for the instructor and keep track of what all the kids were doing, point out problems, etc.”
All the dance studios seem to rely heavily on social media, posting photos, videos, entire classes and motivational sayings. Even rewards for jobs well done are accomplished via technology.
“Our younger students usually get a sticker at end of class, but now I provide online puzzles or coloring pages for parents to download,” Bradshaw said. “We also post a dance challenge every week, encouraging entire families to dance, learn a new dance video and send it in for prizes like T-shirts and DVDs.”
Hunter’s Dance Studio posts regular updates by Peebles and daily messages of encouragement.
“Because it quickly became a scary and uncertain time for so many, we decided to use our professional photos from competition in a post each day with an inspiring and encouraging quote or Bible verse to keep everyone’s spirits up,” Peebles said. “Some people said they were getting in the habit of looking for that encouragement each day.”
Peebles is also arranging for professional dancers from across the country to teach classes via Zoom.
All three dance studios are still planning on holding their recitals at some point, in some form or other. Their main concern is having closure for their senior students.
“My seniors are really, really adamant about finishing, whether it means July or August, whether they are here or off at school,” Hildebrand said. “As as business owner, we want to finish what we’ve started. I don’t have the control to fix it for them, but I’m going to make sure they can have some closure. Whatever form our final performance takes, it will be one that we’ll never forget.”
Peebles is looking at all sorts of options for her recital.
“We have 12 seniors this year, and we will do something for them, even if it’s a virtual recital,” she said. “Depending on the guidelines, we are looking at a couple of different options of venues and an option of a virtual recital with a professional company. They will video the routines, put different backgrounds with each group, and present a livestream of the routines for the student’s friends and family to watch.
“We would do small groups that would allow for the parents to watch the filming of the routines,” Peebles said. “Then we can do a spotlight for our seniors and awards and offer a DVD of the recitals so they have something to remember during this very unusual and uncertain time. But at least they will get the opportunity to perform in their fancy costumes and show what they have worked on all year and that is important.”
At the current time, Bradshaw is planning on holding a recital in August, a full two months after the originally scheduled date. She knows, however, that it is a “wait and see” situation.
“We like to joke that the name of our studio is Dance Studio B because plan A usually doesn’t work, so we move on to Plan B. But now we’re on to plans C, D, E and F.”