As dance studios shut down across the country as schools close in response to COVID-19, we are left with the question of how best to navigate an uncertain future. A crisis of this magnitude requires us to create a map where none exists. My best advice is to prepare for several possible futures, communicate clearly and thoughtfully to your studio, and manage stress by taking it one day at a time.
#1. Consider closing your doors, but give a live-stream option if you remain open.
The best course of action available may be to use the response of your school district to guide your decisions. However, you might choose to remain open as long as possible, and, if so, you could live-stream or create videos of your classes for students who choose to stay home. If your studio remains open, consider closing your lobby to anyone who is not a student. Some studios are continuing to hold adult classes only while imposing greater limits on the number of students in a class.
My studio is in Oregon. On March 2, when schools began asking anyone sick to stay home, I sent out a similar email.
On March 12, when the governor banned gatherings of 250+ people and the schools canceled after-school activities, I was grateful to find a letter in a Facebook group, called “Strategies for Protecting Your Dance Studio and Community in Uncertain Times.”
Editing the letter to fit our situation, I sent an email listing the preventive steps we were taking, including providing hand sanitizers, introducing social-distancing measures, wiping down surfaces hourly and asking families to alert us if someone from the studio was diagnosed with the virus. We also informed families that (for now) we planned to take our cues from the school district. I did not want to commit unreservedly to any plan of action.
When I arrived at the studio, I immediately reviewed the changes with staff members and explained the changes to the dancers before classes started. Sensing fear from the dancers, I also assured them that we were just being careful. If we used a prop, we laid it aside, making it clear that it would be cleaned before being used again, and we wiped down mats between every use. I have heard of studios asking dancers to bring in towels and yoga mats.
That evening, when the governor announced that all Oregon schools would be closed effective Monday, we temporarily shut down the studio. I issued an email informing families that we were closed for the eight days preceding spring break and tentatively planned to add the canceled days to the end of the school year. Promising to be in touch about our definite plans as the situation continued to unfold, I wrote that we would likely follow the schools in re-opening with a probable date of April 1, and reassured parents that we did not have any known coronavirus cases. I included a link to an article about talking with children about the coronavirus.
Most of our families were extremely supportive, with a few naturally concerned about make-up classes and possible refunds. I answered every email personally and immediately. I advise communicating that you are waiting to see how things play out before committing your studio to any decisions about future plans. This was hard for me because I prefer to handle everything immediately. The open-ended nature of the situation felt stressful.
It has been a roller-coaster few weeks, but I have been grateful to be able to use the seriousness of the governor and school district’s responses as a guide and barometer for the seriousness of the threat in our area, something I felt ill-equipped to judge.
There are many dance studios choosing not to close, and I support their decision even though I made a different call. Each studio owner is an expert on what is right for their families.
#2. Consider online classes for closed studios.
Many studios are quickly exploring the option of teaching recital choreography or classes online. I don’t know how parents will feel about paying tuition for online classes, but it seems like a good option to entertain. Reach out to your staff for creative online ideas. If you are implementing online solutions already, please consider sharing them in the comments below.
#3. Anticipate the worst.
Preparation is challenging when we don’t know what will happen next. Whether or not your studio is closed, I’m sure most studio owners are considering how this pandemic will ultimately affect their business. I am not alone in wondering if this is a two-week closure or a much longer situation.
Create a worst-case financial plan now for your studio. I just canceled all non-essential services. Many non-profit studios are asking for donations to help them stay afloat. We are all creative people, and we may need to use that gift to plan for the months ahead. Stay tuned to information about the President’s plan through the Small Business Administration to provide financial aid and to your bank’s emerging policies during this crisis.
#4. Ramp up your social media presence to foster a sense of community during closure.
Dr. Tiffany Gallicano, associate professor of public relations at UNC Charlotte, suggests bringing your dance community together on your studio’s social media platforms in a new way through user-generated content. She suggests creating a private Facebook group for dance families and inviting them to upload content to the page based on the themes like dance challenges.
“Something I teach my students is that every crisis is an opportunity,” Gallicano says. “Even though this is a difficult time, this is also the opportunity for organizations to do things that are out of the ordinary to deepen their relationships with customers. This is the time to stand out and help people who will have a lot of time on their hands at home.”
#5. Be the leader.
It is stressful to be the leader when you have to respond to a situation that is evolving and out of your wheelhouse. All we can do is continue to adjust our responses, communicate with clarity and compassion, and make the best possible choices. Your clients will remember your level of caring, your professionalism and your level head in the face of a crisis. It may be difficult now, but you are making a lasting impression on the families who believe in you. We have the opportunity to let our families see our professionalism and integrity as we respond to the crisis.
If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments below. The more we can pull together as a community as we are socially-distanced, the better.
By Holly Derville-Teer of Dance Informa.