With students forced to school at home, as well as forego activities such as music lessons and spring sports, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the predictability of childhood routine has been interrupted indefinitely.
Carolyn Dutra of Carolyn Dutra Dance Studio, with locations in Cranston, Warwick and Smithfield, decided that instead of closing her doors until the pandemic passed, she would enter dance families’ homes via video, encouraging students to keep moving – and, more importantly, keep smiling.
In an email sent to dance families on March 27, Dutra emphasized her commitment to continue providing “all the benefits of dance (physical, psychological, emotional, social, etc…) to your dancers.”
She explained that the school would continue to provide video classes, which began as a temporary measure the week of March 16, to dancers as long as the studio is financially able. In addition, she informed her community that due to the current economic climate, families may opt to pay full tuition, only what they can, or not at all, based on individual financial situations.
Dutra said her background, specifically her humble childhood, solidified her allegiance to her own studio and dancers.
“Dance has always been there for me and it’s my way of giving back for all the wonderful things that dance has given me,” she said. “The other thing is, I’ve always felt strongly about service above self. We just wanted to get the children on a path of continuity that would sustain their physical and mental health.”
Dutra has bestowed the task of teaching online to her four full-time dance teachers, a group charged with the challenging, yet inspirational, task of reaching out to dancers each week via Zoom.
Blair-Victoria Dutra, Carolyn’s daughter and the school’s studio and accounts manager, said she and her team had to act very quickly to develop a seamless, high-quality virtual dance program.
“All day on Sunday, March 15,” Blair said, “the staff and I were figuring out how to use Zoom, and in two days, we figured it out, and we’re online.” The team devised a way to provide an uninterrupted experience, giving small groups of dancers one hour or more of video instruction per week.
Blair explained how operating online has created opportunities for increased class time.
“For instance,” she said, “on a Wednesday, three of our schools are running two to three classes at a time. So, we are now able to condense that into offering more classes. We’ve even added some bonus classes in the morning, and we are able to invite everyone to extra classes.”
Both Dutra and her daughter expressed how much more challenging it is to teach online.
“The teachers are actually working harder and putting more into the curriculum,” Carolyn said.
Blair-Victoria added: “They work even more to keep the children engaged through the computer. Some are teaching for four hours in a row. They put together a list of things they’ve learned over the first week of teaching online, and the first one they wrote was to ‘have over 100% energy’ in every classroom.”
As for tuition, Dutra shared she was pleasantly surprised that many dance families have not only been able to pay their full tuition, but have also been sending in a bit extra, in both appreciation and hopes the school can continue this online structure as long as necessary.
Students are asked to prepare exactly as they would for their in-person classes – arriving on time, wearing dance clothing, dance shoes, and engaging with their teacher. They are also asked to have props, such as chairs, nearby, in order to practice particular movements. The teachers can see, speak with and correct each dancer at home.
Parents and families who have been participating in online classes have begun weighing in on their new normal, and most have expressed that being able to continue their family’s regular routine, at least in part, has provided them with solace.
The Maurice family, whose daughters Meredith, 10, and Mia, 13, dance with the school, shared via email: “To all the staff: thank you for giving the girls some normalcy and scheduled classes during these uncertain times. The girls miss dance so much but are comforted by knowing they will see all of their wonderful teachers daily for our virtual dance classes. We thank you all and hope you are well. Keep up the great work! We are so grateful!”