I've been trying, with difficulty, to write this blog for a while. Cheggs read the first draft and his response was "that's a bit depressing"... But in truth, I am feeling frustrated, deflated and unsure. It feels like we are the "forgotten industry". The dance and fitness sector, in Scotland, has still not been able to re-open, and as yet, has had very little in the way of guidance for what opening might eventually look like. We are largely made up of small businesses & the self employed - we are vulnerable. It saddens me daily to see studios all over the country closing their doors permanently due to the current situation, and the lack of support and guidance.
Until recently there had been no mention of the dance school sector in government announcements. Following an open letter to the First Minister and a rallying cry from the dance community, we've managed to get our name on a routemap at last, with an indicative date of 14th September to (hopefully) reopen gyms, indoor fitness and dance studios. Dance schools and studios have no single regulating body and as a result can sometimes fall between the cracks. Dance is part of the creative sector however as most dance schools are run as private businesses providing classes for "amateurs", we often have very little interaction with bodies such as Creative Scotland. I think our lack of cohesion and voice as an industry allowed us to be forgotten... but I'm also positive that that is changing and that moving forward we will do so together!
Mid September will mark 6 months since our industry closed its doors. Looking back I am blown away by how quickly and effectively we responded. In a somewhat manic fashion we all managed to get online and change the shape and the face of our businesses, with little or no help. We showed resilience, creativity and positivity and kept dancers and customers, and our ourselves, moving.
For me, the process of moving online has been challenging, but ultimately rewarding and fun. The interaction and the routine have kept me sane, motivated and fit. I have cried happy tears before, during and after classes. It has opened up a new stream of business for me from those who can't normally attend due to geography or childcare. It is definitely something I want to continue.
It has also brought me an income stream at a time when I genuinely believed we wouldn't see it through. Before there was talk of grants or funding online classes were my family's only income, and I am so grateful to every person who kept their payments going and signed up online.
But whilst the adult classes, fitness, yoga and Pilates were enjoyable and sustainable the other side of my business, the dance school itself, was more challenging.
When lockdown hit we were a week away from our first competition of the season. Our dancers were disappointed at not being able to show their hard work and compete. There was a feeling of despondency.
Many of our kids kept coming, many parents kept paying, lots of them kept engaging in our daily classes. But I felt for them. It really isn't the same. Young people attend dance classes for many reasons - they love dancing, but they also love the interaction, seeing their friends, & being in the studio environment.
It wasn't bad - far from it. There were hilarious scavenger hunts, and the joy of finding new games (with varying degrees of success)... hide and seek via zoom was a particular highlight of mine. We had dress up Disney classes, we did jive and line dancing. We had guest teachers, competitions, challenges, awards ceremonies, quizzes and, one time, a pretty unsuccessful game of dance charades.
Over time though our numbers dropped and as we brought different classes together it was also harder to teach a level that was appropriate for everyone. It was hard to correct them as they danced in and out of camera view. Safety was always paramount and worrying they would kick an important vase or hit the ceiling or slip on the kitchen floor restricted what we could teach. In short, it was something but it wasn't a dance class as I know it.
By the end of term we all needed a wee break, and as we hadn't taken the Easter holidays it was overdue. So we bid farewell saying "next time I see you it will be in our new studio". I think we all assumed with pubs, bingo halls, arcades, tanning salons all being open, that we wouldn't be far behind. In my head I had aligned our opening (albeit with no confirmation) around the same times as the schools returning.
What our dancers are missing out on is much more than a weekly dance class - it is their fitness, agility, confidence, social life, mental wellbeing and of course, the dance skills and training. At a time when young people have had their lives and education turned upside down they deserve to be prioritised in terms of mental and physical wellbeing.
I am still hopeful that we will be able to open this Autumn, and I am currently looking at what we can offer online, however without guidance it's hard to plan. We don't know how things will have changed when we are able to open. Will there be a limit on how many classes we can do / what classes we can teach / time between classes. Without this information I don't know what our timetable will look like or how many spaces will be available.
Without meaning to, I've gone down that slightly depressing route again, which was not the intention of this post. Personally I am hopeful (honestly... most of the time!) I have (mainly) enjoyed lockdown and I feel excited about being able to open my new studio. I am lucky to have the space I have. You might think that being at the final stage of an expensive building project, for a studio that has not been allowed to open, would be a precarious place to be. But those who use small spaces without space for social distancing or have weekly lets in community centres or schools that are no longer letting space, have even less control over this situation. We have full control over 2 large, well ventilated studios with an in out system and a paper free booking system. Not all dance schools are in such a privileged position.
OK... I am getting to the positive bit! I promise....
I can't say the whole industry will weather this unscathed... I know it won't (we have already lost a number of schools and studios). But I do know that many of us will survive this despite the uncertainties and here is why...
We are dancers and we have covered this in our training! .. Here are some of the life lesson you learn as a young dancer that will see you through some of the most challenging times in life...
Adaptability - ever been in a dance performance when someone has had a last minute injury and your whole routine changes with zero rehearsal time? Well here we are... adapting. In a matter of days our whole routine changed, and yet we kept dancing.
The show must go on - something we're all taught from a young age. Got a sore head - the show goes on. Your zip broke and your costume is in danger of falling off? The show goes on... Bad break up... the show goes on. The entire world is locked down due to Coronavirus and you can no longer open your doors or see your pupils? The show goes on. Many schools like my own didn't even miss a beat. We saw our kids in person one week, locked down over the weekend and had them in class online the very next week.
Resilience - the ability to recover quickly from difficulties, to bounce back when things go wrong. Dancers are taught resilience from an early age, physically and mentally. Our industry showed immense resilience in the face of lockdown - we bounced back quickly and hopefully we will do so again.
Determination - Dancers are not born with the skills they effortlessly display. It takes years and years of hard work to achieve them. Most of us didn't know how to do an online class - but we called on that determination and we figured it out.
Patience - despite the greatest of intentions, sometimes the hardest working dancers are not always immediately rewarded. Patience is essential. Remember waiting a lifetime for your first pair of pointe shoes? That's real patience! We are showing that patience now as we wait, far longer than many other industries, to get back to work.
Grace - When we see dancers on stage we rarely see the years of struggle, the gruelling rehearsals, the physical pain, and the sacrifices (and thank goodness we don't!). Apart from the odd ranty blog post (like this) we generally take it on the chin with a smile and good grace.
A whole studio to myself
So we got to the positive bit in the end.
If you're looking for me anytime soon I'm patiently waiting (with grace of course), adapting my risk assessments, and using every last ounce of determination and resilience to make sure that this show will go on!
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