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Behind the Curtain Blog

NDEO's "Behind the Curtain" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.

25Apr

Coronavirus timeline, discoveries, and new ideas

NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Sara Lavan, Executive Director and Co-Artistic Director of Local Motion Project. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.

Local Motion Project (LMP) is a young organization in Alexandria Virginia, whose mission is to bring people together in meaningful experiences through the art of dance and movement. Founded in 2016 as a youth dance program, it has grown to provide programming for youth and adults alike.


We at LMP, like all of you, have been navigating our newest dance journey and what it means to serve our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a new organization who strives to stay relevant, we moved quickly, and did a lot of heavy lifting up front. We had to constantly decide when to pivot, adapt, or abort, and that continues today. We have programs for youth to adults, so each piece had to be looked at separately as we decided the path forward.
 

A young girl in a pink biketard mimics the teacher on the TV

For perspective, here are the numbers of people served by our programming: youth dance school 80, adult programs 150, workshops/camps 150, dance integration residencies 400 elementary students, professional development 50, additionally we have an adult and a youth ensemble. I, Executive Director, and Kylie Murray, COO, both Co-Artistic Directors, worked and continue to work every day to analyze what is working, brainstorm on new ways to keep our community of movers engaged, take down clear notes on the process, and examine what could actually stay after this pandemic is over. Additionally, we have discovered new ways to create a revenue stream while staying true to our mission.
 

Here is the timeline of our response:


Beginning of March - Life was changing at a rapid pace as we struggled to keep up with the news. We sent our first COVID-19 Newsletter on March 11th with information on how we were staying safe while keeping the studio open and by March 13, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) announced cancelation starting March 16 until April 14th (after Spring Break).  This time period is a blur of limiting the number of students in each class, postponing, and cancelling. We needed to cancel our youth dance school immediately while we got more information, though we kept some adult classes running.  We used that week to make folders of material for youth students that were delivered through Dropbox to our families. Our teachers created videos of exercises done in class for at-home practice. Our youngest students were given coloring sheets and activity handouts on how to make their own dances. We made folders by age group, rather than style of dance, so our dancers could be exposed to exercises and teachers that were new to them, in addition to their own familiar class. 


Mid-March - Knowing this would move fast, we began to research Zoom and  Flipgrid, and joined webinars on a variety of topics.  We added more material to our youth dance school folders. Teachers could film at home and send to us, or use the studio when no one was there. Kylie offered a Facebook live creative dance class from her porch to keep our community engaged. Filming the videos for our classes inspired us to create more content for other organizations as well as share what we are already creating.  Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) hired us to create content for their distance learning set-up on ACPS TV, a public access television channel. We wanted to share the content that was amassing for our youth program and ACPS with those that had limited resources, to better serve our community. After contacting organizations that served populations in need, and determining what access was available to view the material, we provided content to our local homeless shelter and an organization that works with teenage mothers. We will continue to reach out as this goes along to see who else might benefit from the work we are already doing to serve our own students. This is new for us, but we anticipate it will be a major development for our organization’s efforts to increase access to dance in our community.


End of March - Virgina closed all schools for the remainder of the year, so we moved all of our classes online. We used Zoom for most of our adult classes and all youth programs.  We had to cancel our inaugural adult ensemble performance. For the first week of adult classes we sent a survey out after each class to gather data on best times, formats, ease of use, etc. Our youth dance program received no refunds, but we transitioned smoothly to online. We added more content to their folder in Dropbox for extra perks, and added Flipgrid to our older students so we could share videos of dance performances and videos of dances that were being created in houses and apartments across the country. We found because our curriculum does not solely focus on technique/skill building, but also dance making, context, history, lineage and broad perspective of what dance is and can do, these formats worked for us and gave us time to explore some things we did not always have time for in class. This was an important discovery about our curriculum. It was not only the students that adapted, but our staff as well could quickly switch gears and create class content through a new lens. We decided to cancel our youth showcase, after much back and forth on postponing. We believed that certainty was the best path forward, as hanging on to a “maybe” was not beneficial for us. We received a credit for theater rental for next year. We gave parents a choice to receive a refund or donate the cost of tickets back to us. Most chose to donate. 


April - Applied for EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) and PPP (Payroll Protection Program). We did receive both. We asked our landlord for rent abatement and are waiting for a reply.  We are almost on autopilot now, but each day we try to discover something new to provide for our students and community, and bring in revenue to pay our teachers. We are on a constant filming loop, getting better each time at editing, speaking to the camera, and engaging our young dancers. We have found new organizations to partner with that need online content and are interested in pairing with dance. We offered online material in lieu of our in-school dance residencies to offset possible refunds, and are writing grants to try to receive funds to offset additional work hours. We cancelled our June summer camps and offered a choice of virtual learning video package, credit for future camp, or refund. We began to offer online Zoom classes for Girl Scout troops and birthday parties, and provide weekly fee-based creative dance classes for students who are not part of our year-long dance program. Our weekly drop-in online classes are not only keeping our current student base, but have drawn new students, or engaged past ones.  


What’s Next?

  • We are planning an outdoor celebration outside for our youth dancers when we can convene again. We are concerned about the loss of interest for some dancers without our end-of-year showcase to work toward. We want to inspire that feeling of accomplishment and keep them excited about dance, so we want to have a festive gathering with some collective movement experiences.
  • To keep our youth ensemble engaged, we are planning a dance/theatre video project for dancers to collaborate on through Zoom rehearsals and Flipgrid submissions that will have an online “debut” of some sort.  
  • We are considering new ideas for sustainability in the future, and how some of the things we’ve created in response to the pandemic can fit into our programs in the future.  We are looking at an online library where practice videos for adults and youth can be rented.  We are gathering information on if periodic online events would be beneficial and of interest, even if the live classes were back on. 
  • We are beginning a new online after school program for high schoolers called Choreolab, to get students engaged in dance-making using Zoom and Flipgrip.

Things we have discovered: 

  • Interacting with our students in live online classes makes a difference. The children delight in answering questions directed at them, and when we use their ideas for dance-making during class.
  • Our adult students are coming to our online classes even though there is a lot out there available for free. They like their teachers, and feel the comfort of familiar students and movement. 
  • When using Zoom, be sure to log in early and set your video, and be familiar with the controls. You can turn your video off and play music to set a nice mood as people enter, and not feel that you have to interact with each person early, unless you want to.   
  • Know you can mute all participants. If you choose to have audio on upon entry, let your folks know that you will mute all when it starts. Remember, if they are not muted, the screen will jump to them when you are teaching.   
  • If using "left and right' be aware that your students may see you in a mirror image, or not, depending on their settings. I often use "this side and the other side" or "chose a side.”  
  • Talk to your participants and let them feel that you are in control. I make sure to tell them about the potential for sound lag, different ways to set up the view on their screens, and issues that can arise from bandwidth differences. I encourage movers to do the best they can in spite of any potential tech issues. 

Our biggest takeaway has been that there is true power in dance and movement. Yes, "in person" is an experience that cannot be recreated, but live online sessions bring smiles to our students of all ages. We know this story will continue to evolve, and things will shift as we learn more. This is a discovery period for all of us, and we hope that our continued sharing of experiences will make us stronger as we navigate the new landscape post Covid-19.

Sara is a white woman with short blong hair, wearing a dark jacket and red tshirt

Sara Lavan is the founder of Local Motion Project where she serves as Executive and Co-Artistic Director. She creates, curates, and facilitates programming including: movement classes, continuing education, youth dance school, creative community workshops, and school residencies. Sara received her BA from New York University, where she minored in dance education. She received her Pilates training at the Kane School of Core Integration. She has continuing education from Kinected Pilates Center, Balanced Body University, Franklin Method with Eric Franklin, BrainDance developed by Anne Green Gilbert, Pregnancy and Postpartum fitness with Debora Goodman, MSPT, arts integration from the University of Delaware, Language of Dance (LOD) from 92nd Street Y, dance integration from Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) program, and National Dance Education Organization (NDEO). Sara has been published in Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher, and Dance Studio Life. She has presented at NDEO conferences, is a faculty member with the Dance West Virginia Fall Festival, facilitator of professional development for Arena Stage, has served as commissioner with the Alexandria Arts Commission and is a presenter with the Kennedy Center’s CETA program at the REACH. Headshot by Geoff Livingston

 

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