I have, in four previous blog posts, chronicled my experiences with teaching dance during the COVID-19 Pandemic. I discussed how virtual teaching would change the way our students learn, I discussed my struggles with technology as I transitioned to a virtual platform, I discussed classes that were, in my opinion, epic failures as the technology failed to perform (and the subsequent love and support I received from my students) and I discussed the despair that I felt as, month after month, I walked into an empty studio.
Now, as things are starting to re-open in New York City, I thought I would discuss my experiences as I transition back to teaching in the studio.
I am primarily known as a faculty member of the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City. And although much of my work is for Joffrey, in order to carve out a living as a freelance teacher in New York, I also teach regularly at four other schools. Each of these schools has a different set of circumstances and a different set of problems with respect to reopening. As I chronicle the last several weeks for you, I will be omitting which situation is occurring at which school, as to protect the privacy of those involved.
At the beginning of this pandemic, all but one of my regular weekly classes transferred to a virtual platform; so for all intents and purposes my schedule, career and income remained in tact. As the summer approached, and semesters and school years came to an end, I found myself with very little work over the summer, as enrollment plummeted in the summer programs by which I am usually employed. But as September approached, there were whispers of programs opening, studios opening and work returning.
First came the faculty meetings on Zoom. Multiple faculty meetings, each running approximately two hours; for FIVE SCHOOLS. Faculty meetings about continuing on Zoom, faculty meetings about when we could open, faculty meetings detailing plans for keeping students safe, meetings about new attendance apps, new grading apps, new health tracking apps, new communication apps, new registration apps, faculty meetings about hybrid models, distance learning and recorded learning, and meetings about enrollment statistics and consequently meetings about decreased class numbers and salary cuts. Between the five schools it felt as if the meetings were endless. Each of the schools is also requiring COVID testing, and each is requiring that test to be performed a specific number of days prior to the first class. I have, so far, taken four COVID tests, as the re-opening dates keep changing.
One of my five schools has decided to cancel all dance classes until 2021, so I have not had any further meetings or communication with them since this announcement was made. And, consequently, I have lost these classes and the income for the rest of this year. Another of the schools is hoping to restart dance classes sometime in November, so the meetings and communication for this school have been temporarily paused until final decisions are made.
The first school to reopen is operating on a hybrid model. The hybrid model that is being used requires teaching classes that sometimes occur in the studio, and sometimes on Zoom. The Zoom classes and the live classes alternate each week but the day and time of the Zoom classes are different than the day and time of the live in studio classes (requiring double the time commitment for half the work). This school has a new registration and attendance program/app that was very challenging for me to learn and is still not working correctly for any of the faculty members. The “in studio“ classes have a zoom broadcast running simultaneously, and although there was a computer and big screen TV set up for my use, the picture was constantly failing as I struggled to teach the students in the room along with those fuzzy images of students at home on the faltering, flickering screen.
The second school to reopen also has a new attendance and grading app, but once I learned the program (no small feat for me) it seems to be working fine. This school’s hybrid model has me teaching every class in the studio with a simultaneous zoom feed; half the students in the studio with me, half at home. Fifteen hours before my first class a student at the school tested positive for COVID-19 and the classes went immediately to Zoom until the state could determine the extent of the exposure and decide on a safe re-opening date.
The third school to reopen, on a similar hybrid model, had to completely reorganize their schedule to allow for social distancing in the hallways. They sent me a schedule. They sent me a revised schedule. They sent me a third schedule. They sent me a fourth schedule (all in the space of nine days). And each of these revised schedules created problems and conflicts with other schools, especially with the proposed schedules of the two schools that are not yet open. When I finally got to teach my first class in the studio, the computer and big screen TV that was set up for my use had terrible issues with the sound, that took more than half of the class time for the technical assistant to resolve.
And so I have been stressed, and frustrated, and angry, and nervous as I transition back to teaching in the studio.
But at each and every one of these schools the administration, program directors and tech support staff have created, completely from scratch, a brand new way to run a school. They have remained supportive, helpful and confident. These people have done the impossible. Despite the problems (and there were so many that I can’t even mention them all) they saw to it that the students had training, that the faculty had jobs and that everyone was kept safe and healthy. And as everything seemed to be crumbling around me and as my stress and anxiety mounted, these people worked literally around the clock to be sure that I and my students received as much support as possible. And as I walked through the door of each of these schools I was greeted by a smiling and unflappable administration and staff that has done everything humanly possible, and MORE, to be sure that the magic that happens in these studios lives on. So I applaud the administration and staff of New York Film Academy, New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts and The Joffrey Ballet School. I hope I can learn by YOUR example: to single-mindedly, and with limitless determination and resourcefulness, solve an unsolvable problem with grace, style and most importantly, with kindness and with love.