Just over a month ago I was sitting in front of my bedroom mirror, coated in an almost unimaginable amount of false tan applying false eyelashes and the lashings of makeup you can only understand if you’ve performed on a stage in any capacity.
That night should have been the dress rehearsal and first full performance of Chicago - the show I had worked my backside off to be in and that I'd moved mountains for to attend rehearsals in Colne whilst teaching in Blackpool. It had made me understand what my students felt like as I tackled dance styles I hadn’t danced for over 20 years and finally I had to take direction instead of being the one shouting orders.
I’d loved every second, my whole year had geared up to that week...and then the unthinkable happened, Boris Johnson closed all theatres due to Covid 19. We had dress rehearsal, opening night and closing night all in one go - we performed to six people - and we’d never even seen it coming. A silent, invisible and deadly critic had closed us down before we’d even begun. We had no time to prepare emotionally, meaning all our adrenaline, nerves and opening night euphoria turned into tears, disappointment and anger.
If all that wasn’t enough, for those of us who own businesses and make our living in the arts, that too was over. Example has been cruising along at warp speed during this first year and that one day, that one pivotal decision, meant I could no longer teach, I could no longer rent the studio - it was over...or so I thought. Dance teachers around the world rallied together to generate new ways of teaching, but I remained low. I teach BALLROOM - a genre which relies on contact, on frame and connection. How could I ever teach that via video? Plus, within days, celebrities from across the globe were offering online tutorials for FREE. Using high-end technologies, their style relaxed in front of a camera, their appearance seemingly always perfect. How could I compete?
And then it dawned on me - I’ve been the underdog before. In the early days managing the studios in London I never felt like I knew what I was doing, I felt that I was too young to be doing the job and that I was a little fish in a very very big pond. So what did I do? I did everything I could do and I did it the best I knew how. That’s all I can do - I didn’t give up then and there was no way I was giving up now.
I grabbed my iPhone, recorded a positive “I’m still here” video for my clients, downloaded the Zoom meeting app everyone was raving about and tried. For all I knew no-one would take my bait - people might be relishing the free alternatives, or not want to deal with the awkwardness of using unfamiliar technology...but I was wrong. And slowly but surely I developed a regular booking of several private lessons. We stumbled through our awkwardness together, and now three weeks in it's almost second nature and more importantly we are seeing results I never even imagined.
It turns out the loss of connection I was so worried about is teaching my students how to think for themselves, relying on their own ability to showcase their routines. With the pressure off for exams, medals and competitions we can finally breathe and focus on detail, on the areas that have been worrying us, on the styles we find challenging - it's given us a freedom we may never have had on the dance floor and I’m finding myself feeling strangely grateful that I have been allowed this “polishing” time.
Of course it's not everyone's cup of tea and I have to understand that and we have done everything in our power to provide YouTube videos, scripts and telephone consultations to allow as many of you to carry on as possible.
I’m so grateful to all of you, not just my students but anyone who has carried on through all of this. Dance isn’t just our livelihood, it's our passion and I know I am not alone in saying that your dance teacher would be heartbroken to see all his/her hard work go to waste as you forget your routines or lose your technique and muscle memory during this difficult time. For me, I would also hate for you to not experience the escape and joy dance brings in a time when there feels like there is very little to smile about. Everything is new right now but once I start teaching and the stigma of being online is forgotten, I’m right there, doing what I do best - teaching my students to dance. I have my dance school, it's not gone, it's just not in bricks and mortar - it's in each and every one of you.
For those of you who are still to decide or those I don’t teach – remember your dance teachers need you more than ever - our businesses haven’t just been halted, without teaching many of us lose who we are. Support your dance teachers, every lesson now takes so much more planning to make sure we do you proud (not to mention navigating a whole new level of technology). We are not going anywhere - stay with us and when all else fails…DANCE.