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‘This is the new world’: N.S. instructors say coronavirus has changed dance lessons for good

Image of Laura Selenzi and her belly dance troupe in March 2019 dance show called 'Night Gardens.' .
Image of Laura Selenzi and her belly dance troupe in March 2019 dance show called 'Night Gardens.' . Josh Szeto

Since the start of the pandemic, performers and dance teachers, like everybody else in Nova Scotia, have been forced to stay the blazes home and maintain social distancing rules to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But that hasn’t stopped dance instructors and students from dancing their anxiety and stress away together through virtual means.

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“As a performer, I didn’t even want to think about the impact COVID-19 will have on our industry. It seemed so difficult to do… but now I’m excited about the possibilities,” said Maria Osende, a professional dancer and owner of Maria Osende Flamenco Co.

Osende has started offering free online Flamenco classes on Saturdays, and even has a guest teacher from Spain giving virtual Flamenco classes to her students.

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Maria Osende, a professional dancer and owner of Maria Osende Flamenco Co.
Maria Osende, a professional dancer and owner of Maria Osende Flamenco Co.

“In Flamenco, in particular, one of the main problems is that people need to go to study in Spain or have to invite a teacher over here to learn more, so usually there are so many costs to this and the teacher will just be here for four days.”

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But now, Osende says students are learning from the guest teacher online, without having to worry about cost or scheduling issues.

“I’m sure the technology will get better. Zoom has not been designed for dance classes, obviously, but… I think in the future dance classes will be more of a hybrid between in-person and some online.” Zoom is a platform for audio and video teleconferencing.

Zoom 101: How to host or join a videochat
Zoom 101: How to host or join a videochat

Osende says that post-pandemic, if there’s ever a snowstorm, students and teachers can easily switch to online, a new business methodology that will mean fewer cancellations and refunds.

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Fortunately for Serpentine Studios in Halifax, which offers classes in belly dance, burlesque and more, students have continued to take their dance classes online.

Laura Selenzi, belly dance teacher and co-owner of the studio, says they decided to go with pre-recorded classes instead of Zoom.

Laura Selenzi leading a class in belly dance at Serpentine Studios.
Laura Selenzi leading a class in belly dance at Serpentine Studios.

That way, she says in the event of online glitches or technical issues, “we wouldn’t have to process any refunds, because that would have been extremely difficult for us financially, so luckily our students were very accommodating,” Selenzi said.

She said that online dance classes were already hugely popular before the pandemic, but now everyone is doing it.

“In the belly dance world it has become huge,” said Selenzi.

READ MORE: London, Ont., dance studio organizes social distancing memorial for father who died of coronavirus

She says while they will continue to offer their service online, they hope to regain some of what has been lost during the lockdowns.

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“We’ve lost the interaction with our students, the sense of community, which is a big part of what we do as a business.”

As a performer, Selenzi would usually get booked for birthday parties, bachelorette parties and other events, but that hasn’t been possible due to COVID-19.

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“That’s a huge concern for us. Performing is really what we love to do. We love teaching and we love performing and it’s a really joyful experience for us,” she says.

However, creative opportunities have emerged during this time, with Selenzi having been invited recently to a virtual birthday party, which had multiple belly dancers on camera while people danced and chatted.

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“It never occurred to me to do something like that online… and I thought it was such a great idea. It was really fun,” said Selenzi.

During this time, the Maritime Centre for African Dance is also offering cultural education workshops online and on social media to keep their business running.

The centre is dedicated to teaching, sharing and promoting African Culture through the art of dance, to youth and adults across Canada.

The centre usually has about 30 instructors, but due to the pandemic, only 20 remain.

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“We took a really big hit with this pandemic because a lot of our instructors were just left with nothing to do due to the fact that all they did was go to schools and then schools were shut,” said Artistic Director Ruvi Mugara.

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She says the pandemic has forced them to train their instructors on how to teach dance on a virtual platform and keep their students engaged.

Maritime Centre for African Dance instructors teaching a class at one of the schools in Nova Scotia.
Maritime Centre for African Dance instructors teaching a class at one of the schools in Nova Scotia.

“This is the new world. This is what we’re doing now. This is the new normal. And so we have to be innovative as people who provide the service,” Mugara says.

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The centre offers workshops for children in daycare and students all the way to Grade 12.

Mugara said the centre has been using Facebook, Snapchat and Youtube to showcase their regular workshops.

“This is a way for kids to still stay active at home and just have fun because really, what are kids doing? It’s kind of boring,” she says.

The centre is also preparing Zoom dancing classes for children and their parents to stay active and engaged. Mugara says they will have about 10 participants at a time and a fee of $10 so that the instructors can continue to be paid.

“We’re hoping to do the Zoom classes throughout the summer and also have them as an ongoing thing from now on, even when schools get back.”