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Students practice at Ballet Chelsea before the pandemic.

Living Room Ballerinas

Dance studios teach students to dance alone, together.

by Stephanie Sorter

Published in July, 2020

You've heard of singing in the shower, but what about dancing? When Ballet Chelsea started online classes in July, students had to find imaginative ways to replicate dance studios inside their homes. Some dancers made ballet barres out of PVC pipe, while others replaced the non-slip floors they're used to with rolls of waterproof shower pan liner.

Even with makeshift barres and shower liner floors, Ballet Chelsea artistic director Wendi DuBois says the shift to online classes has been a challenge. The studio canceled its spring show Gershwin!, and has had to deal with technical difficulties such as bad internet connections and the limited views offered by computer webcams. However, DuBois says the seventy students enrolled in Zoom classes are still "very grateful to have some dance available."

Dancer Claire Bowers, a student at Chelsea High School, said the three month stretch between the studio shutting down and online classes beginning was hard. She "had never gone so long without dance" since she joined Ballet Chelsea at the age of three. She's now taking Zoom classes four days a week and is glad her practice can continue even with her "dogs making noise in the background."

Ballet Chelsea isn't the only studio to adapt. Dexter-based Dancer's Edge started running Zoom classes the day after schools closed. The quick transition allowed them to offer several weeks of free classes (open to kids around the country) until other studios shifted online. While online instruction has its limitations, it is also opening up new possibilities. Some teachers have been integrating lessons on dance history into their normal class routines.

Dancer's Edge's owner Valerie Potsos says online classes have certain advantages, like allowing instructors to get through more curriculum because students aren't able to distract each other. While Potsos admits that there is "nothing like in-person instruction," she's noticed that classes taught through a camera let teachers focus on emotional dynamics more than they would in the

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studio. Potsos even revealed that a hybrid approach to classes could be in this studio's future, especially during inclement weather.

Randazzo Dance Studio and Ann Arbor Dance Classics are planning on transitioning back to in-person instruction soon after months of offering online classes. Randazzo is looking into a hybrid approach to fall classes, with staggered classes that allow for physical distancing and regular cleaning. Each studio room is also being equipped with TVs and cameras, so that classes can be livestreamed and instructors can watch students who wish to stay home. While this will depend on the State-level restrictions moving forward, Randazzo artistic director Sara Randazzo says they're eager to get back to the studio. Apparently Zoom classes often have a sound delay that makes tap dancing difficult.

Ann Arbor Dance Classics is preparing to hold in-person classes as soon as August. Owner Deena Fournier says they've "cleaned, disinfected, organized, cleaned more and disinfected more" in order to get the studio ready for students. To follow CDC guidelines, they are reducing class size from sixteen to nine, so that students can physically "dis-dance," each within their own taped-off section of the barre and floor to dance on. The studio has also modified their lesson plans to allow students to dance in masks, and they've been holding mock classes with their staff to ensure safety. Fournier admits that it's been difficult lately, but she "can't imagine doing anything else," a sentiment that is shared by every other studio.     (end of article)

[Originally published in July, 2020.]


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