As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, dance students around central Ohio are pulling on their leotards, sliding on their dance shoes and going to class – on their computers.
Dancing came to a halt throughout Ohio when Gov. Mike DeWine’s statewide stay-at-home order went into effect March 23. The BalletMet Academy faculty sprang into action, going online with all of its normally in-person classes.
“In one week, we recorded five weeks of videos for the kids,” said BalletMet Academy Director Maria Torija.
Students were able to dance along with the videos on their own schedules at home. Meanwhile, Torija says she and academy faculty were having meetings on Zoom to try to find a physically distanced way of teaching that would allow them to interact with their students.
“I said, ‘Let’s give it a try and have classes via Zoom,’” said Torija.
During last spring’s shutdown, BalletMet Academy faculty continued to produce video-recorded classes and have been able to keep offering the academy’s regular classes live through Zoom.
However, dancing at home just isn’t the same as dancing in a professional dance studio with plenty of space, special flooring and ballet barres.
“They were dancing holding onto their stoves, and some were dancing on carpet, some have very slippery floors,” Torija said. “We didn’t want them to get hurt.”
Torija started looking for a safe way to get students back into the studios. She and BalletMet senior management conversed with physicians and with staff at other dance companies in the U.S. and in Europe. Based on those conversations and on CDC coronavirus guidelines, they devised a set of safety protocols for dancing in BalletMet’s studios as the pandemic continues.
With safety measures in place, and with the Ohio Department of Health’s May 26 guidelines allowing dance studios to reopen, BalletMet Academy offered its annual Summer Intensive and Junior Intensive programs in a hybrid in-person/virtual version and an all-virtual option.
“The whole procedure is doable, it’s different – very, very different,” Torija said, “but the class is still the same.”
While BalletMet Academy will offer all of its classes during the 2020-21 season with in-person, all-virtual and hybrid options, Worthington-based Hixon Dance has taken all of its class offerings online.
Hixon Dance Founder and Artistic Director Sarah Hixon says the move to all-virtual classes is intended to eliminate safety concerns and prevent class schedule disruptions amid the pandemic.
“We felt like we know we can do this, and we can invest in this platform, so let’s just do that and have something consistent that can keep students and teachers safe,” said Hixon.
Hixon Dance is offering real-time and pre-recorded dance and movement classes for all age groups and skill levels. The studio is also building a library of on-demand classes that students will be able to access on Vimeo this fall.
“It is not the same as doing it in person in the studio for lots of reasons, but it is certainly better than not doing it at all.” Hixon said.
Hixon has also been leading rehearsals for the Hixon Dance professional company entirely online. The Columbus Modern Dance Company (CoMo) has pursued this option through Google Meet.
Recently, though, CoMo opened those virtual company classes for adults anywhere to join in.
“I wanted to make sure that anybody who’s still not comfortable dancing in person or who doesn’t have a steady income right now is still able to take technique class,” said Laura Comana Puscas, co-founder and acting artistic and executive director of Columbus Modern Dance Company.
Puscas says CoMo’s virtual open company classes may continue if there’s enough interest. Meanwhile, she’s considering offering in-person pop-up dance classes for adult beginners in outdoor locations, like city parks.
Even with the limitations of virtual dance classes, there are also some potential advantages. For instance, students who want to dance but don’t want to be seen by others in the class can turn off their cameras. And it’s easier now than ever for visiting instructors from outside Columbus teach classes here.
“I think it’s nice that we have the flexibility for instructors not to live in Columbus,” said Puscas. “I’m hoping to take advantage of it.”