by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal
When Gov. Tom Wolf mandated a two-week, state-wide closure for all kindergarten-12 schools, local dance studios followed suit. A bit daunting, but a necessary response to the COVID19 outbreak. When two weeks extended to indefinitely, studio owners had to make some immediate decisions regarding the operations of their dance schools. While some chose to close-shop for the season, others sought options to continue training dancers and employing faculty.
Sam Sinns, owner/director of Twirl in Newtown Square, PA, started researching platforms for online classes when it was clear that PA schools would not be re-opening at the end of March. “I had to bring in revenue and it was virtual classes or nothing,” said Sinns. He looked at Google Meet but decided to use ZOOM for several reasons. “I felt it had the best quality and it had the added value of a video-on-demand option. Also, many schools were using it so most of the families were already familiar with how it worked.” Sinns started virtual classes with a “business as usual” approach. He is running his full class schedule following Twirl’s original time-table. The only change is the discontinuation of acro-classes for safety reasons. Tuition was charged in full as his overhead expenses are the same as before the outbreak.
Sinns said that he did lose some students but that most parents were on-board. Giving the students a sense of normalcy and routine was one of their biggest concerns. Virtual classes not only allow students to continue their training, but it also gives them the opportunity to connect with their fellow dancers and instructors.
Shannon Cooper, owner/artistic director of Shannon Cooper’s Academy of Dance in Coatesville, PA, is taking a similar approach. She is also offering classes via ZOOM but with a modified schedule. Regarding the economic impact, she says, “I can’t stop the upkeep of the building even though we don’t physically have students attending.” Transitioning to virtual classes also incurred additional expenses due to internet upgrades, online conferencing programs, microphones, and web cameras.
Cooper says student response has been positive. Class structures had to be adjusted to suit the live format and to account for probable lack of space and suitable flooring. Some of them are missing the elements of class they enjoyed the most. “The biggest student impact I have seen is if they are self-motivated. They have to push themselves not to give up, to listen fully, and to be able to self-correct at home.”
Her underlying objective is to retain as many students as possible so that they continue with her in future sessions. “Canceling classes isn’t an option if I am truly invested in our student’s growth and my staff’s wellbeing. We all need something to look forward to, staying both mentally and physically healthy.”
Since students are not receiving the one on one training they got inside the classroom, Cooper felt that their tuition should reflect that. Each family was given a 20% discount on their normal monthly tuition.
Both Sinns and Cooper are providing no-cost incentives to retain their clientele. These include family dance and fitness classes and pre-recorded classes that can be taken anytime. Cooper added some open level classes that anyone can take, while Sinns is offering master classes with Broadway veterans.
As for post-pandemic recovery, Cooper worries that some students will find that they prefer to learn online. “There are many free online classes right now that they can take. They may find that dancing online with any artist around the world is better than in studio instruction.” However, she does think only a small percentage of students will seek this route long-term.
She concludes, “I don’t know if there was anything any of us could have done to not feel any ramifications from something of this magnitude. I do think that I may keep a few online class options in the future to draw in students who have sensory issues or anxiety about big groups and would learn better in an online setting. As for Sinns, he is staying positive, “Dance isn’t going anywhere!”