They all decided to think outside the box when it comes to socially distanced dancing.
When dance studios across Long Island had to close their doors at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic back in March, owners were concerned about what that meant for their studios.
Gwenn Capodieci, executive director at Backstage Studio of Dance in Port Jefferson Station, said in her 35 years at the studio, this year was unlike any other.
“This was probably one of the hardest times of my life,” she said. “It was so very stressful trying to get the PPP loans, any other grants, working with our landlords, worrying about not being at the studio — I’m in the risky age group and I want to continue doing what I love.”
But within a week after the shutdown, she said, Backstage posted 65 classes to Zoom.
“Teaching on zoom was difficult,” she said. “In the beginning the kids were excited, but then it wore off. Part of dancing is they’re your family, you want to see them in class.”
Capodieci said her studio surveyed parents on holding a recital — a rite of passage for many ballerinas where they adorn sparkly tutu’s and dance for their families on the big stage after months of rehearsals. They decided to cancel it this year.
But in mid-July they were allowed to reopen in person, changing shape, and adhering to the new state’s guidelines for teaching. Inside her studio taped to the floor are different grids, a socially distanced box for each dancer to twirl and tap in, while wearing their newest accessory — a mask.
“We’ve perfected the cleaning routine,” she said. “We clean the floors in between every class, wipe down the barres and have taken every chair, cubby and bench that’s in the studio away.”
“I want to be safe,” she added. “I don’t want to get anyone sick, and I don’t want to close my business.”
Capodieci said the added costs of Zoom and the cleaning supplies took a toll, especially with enrollment down.
“Enrollment was 60-something percent of what we normally have,” she said. “I’m hoping that next year is a good year for us.”
Down the road, also in Port Jefferson Station, Port Jefferson Dance Academy was celebrating its 25th year in business when the virus struck.
“We did not do Zoom classes, instead I started a private Facebook page and my teachers would upload videos so students can do classes, warmups, barre work and across the floor whenever they chose to so they wouldn’t have to miss out on a Zoom meeting time or class,” Director Tara Lennstrom said. “Financially it was rough because I wasn’t making a profit off of that. The hope was when we opened up again, we could just resume where we left off.”
When they opened back up during Phase 4, they picked up on rehearsals for their recital. Normally the dancers perform at the Staller Center at Stony Brook University but were unable to due to COVID. She decided to hold an outdoor recital, instead.
“I rented a giant dance floor with a DJ to play the music and people didn’t feel like they were behind the shopping center,” she said. “It was one of the most difficult recitals I’ve ever had to put together, but it was probably one of the best.”
Now in its 26th year, her classes look a little different. “We have 10 students per class, and I have a rather large studio, so that gives us ample space to dance,” she said. “People seem to be happy that there is something for their kids to do that’s fun and creative.”
Decked in their leotards and masks, Lennstrom said her students are not even phased by the new guidelines anymore.
“The resilience these kids have just shows you how they were able to adapt and how flexible they are,” she said.
Gabrielle Cambria, special productions manager at Chorus Line Dance Studio in Smithtown and Miller Place, said opening back up under the new guidelines was a no-brainer.
“We all know that physical health isn’t the only health you need,” she said. “Everyone’s been really lucky and safe at our studio, and we’ve been dancing ever since.”
Chorus Line also implemented a large TV screen into their classrooms so students can Zoom in from home.
“Our in-class group is cut in half, so they go back and forth each week,” Cambria added.
Chance to Dance in Setauket did the same thing and opened up a Google Classroom account back in April.
“Anybody can take virtual class if they want to,” Jennifer Kranenberg, studio owner said. “If they’re not comfortable yet coming to class, they can still do something.”
Kranenberg said the virtual option was one positive that came out of COVID, because it allows students to makeup a class from home, or if they’re feeling slightly under the weather, they can still dance online.
At the start of the pandemic, Kranenberg said she knew how important the social aspect was for her students, so she added bonus weekly fun calendar of events including show and tells, Netflix movie nights, tea parties and family game nights online so her kids could still communicate virtually. She also featured her graduating seniors on social media, along with a surprise graduation car parade and a small, socially distanced prom.
“I gave a huge piece of myself to make sure that the kids were having fun, staying engaged and getting to be with each other, having interactions with their dance friends,” she said. “It goes a long way.”
And, like the other studios, she faced similar challenges. She had to cut one of her three rooms to maintain a cap on students. “Enrollment is definitely low,” she said. “I wish it was higher than it was, but it’s not awful. I feel hopeful, but I’m scared. I feel like it’s a tight margin financially to, swing it and to get by.”
being in different locations with different students and classes, all four owners can agree that being back with their students was worth the hardship they faced the last nine months.
Capodieci said that her first day back in the studio she cried when she saw her students.
“I love teaching dance,” she said. “I love my kids. I want to be with them, and if wearing the mask allows us to dance then we have to wear a mask.”