Local dance studios put a ‘spin’ on their function

Nina Geoghegan

In the world of dance, practices and performances tend to be a full-time commitment. This physically demanding sport not only requires long hours in the studio, but also lots of space and equipment. As a result of the first COVID-19 lockdown back in March 2020, these conditions, taken for granted by many dancers, suddenly disappeared. With their large group rehearsals and performances, dance studios were no exception to Marin County’s COVID-19 guidelines. Nonetheless, local dance companies have gone above and beyond to deliver a proper dance education to their students.

Junior Madeline Redmond, a dancer at Marin Ballet (MB), located in San Rafael, recalls the complications she and her studio experienced at the beginning of quarantine.

“We were approaching our spring show, [it was] two or three weeks away, and everything just shut down for almost a month before we set up Zoom [dance] classes,” Redmond said.

Redmond appreciates her studio’s (MB) transition to Zoom and feels it was innovative despite the occasional glitches. Courtesy of Madeline Redmond

Like many others, Redmond had assumed that the lockdown would only last the original period of two weeks. When it became evident that COVID-19 was a long term issue, the dance studio’s situation grew more complicated. 

“Once [the lockdown order] got past that point, [the studio] really had to figure out how we were going to [dance] from home. There’s an energy to the studio, whereas at home, you’re there by yourself. It’s not the same as being with everybody,” Redmond said. 

Although practices at MB are still primarily virtual, with the exception of rehearsals in small groups, the studio has also come up with various socially distanced solutions. In a continued effort to safely return to normalcy, MB set their sights past rehearsals and put on a production of the Nutcracker on December 12th of 2020. To achieve this, MB set up an outdoor platform for both the rehearsals and the show, which was watched by a live audience through Zoom.

“[The performance] felt a lot more broken up this year; it wasn’t cohesive. That was kind of disappointing, but it was still fun to be able to wear costumes and to [put on] an actual performance,” Redmond said.

Other studios handled the shut down situation similarly, closing their doors and opening up Zoom rooms. Junior Jamie Randel and dancer at the San Rafael studio, Marin Dance Theatre (MDT), also switched to this new virtual format. Unfortunately, things did not go quite so smoothly at first, according to Randel. 

“The teachers can’t really give us the same corrections [through Zoom] because of the angles that our cameras have to be at and [the restriction of] our spaces. Also, the music delays, so they can’t tell if we have correct musicality,” Randel said. 

MDT’s mock dance floor has almost all the qualities of the studio’s special sprung Marley floors, a floor specific to dance, although it is not entirely void of flaws. Courtesy of Jamie Randel

Randel’s studio faced another challenge when their spring performance was canceled halfway through their preparations last year.

“All our rehearsing went to waste, but [MDT] wanted us to be able to perform, even if we couldn’t be on an actual stage. [MDT] built temporary outside studios [in the courtyard] under big tents [with] a mimic floor, so it’s safe to jump and turn and do all the things [dancers] do,”  Randel said.

To ensure dancers’ and parents’ health alike, MDT put on a smaller scale showcase of solo variations for a small audience of socially distanced families. Randel appreciates her studio’s effort to maintain both normalcy and safety. 

Over at Performing Arts Academy of Marin (PAAM) located in Strawberry, freshman  Cameryn Smith found online classes socially challenging.

Smith misses hugging teammates and friends and feels she dances better in the presence of larger audiences. Courtesy of Cameryn Smith

“There’s always a downside to Zoom. Being in the presence of other people helps you grow. It’s more fun to be with your team,” Smith said.

On the other hand, Smith discovered a few positives about her online dance experience. Smith was specifically grateful for the efforts PAAM made to provide their students with new experiences.

“[There have been] so many new teaching opportunities. So many choreographers from around the world are now doing virtual classes,” said Smith. 

At the moment, PAAM is unclear whether they will be able to put on their annual end-of-the-year showcase, but Smith commends the studio for its attitude and emphasis on COVID-19 protection.

“[The pandemic is] really challenging for everyone, but I think [PAAM has] done a really good job to stay positive through all of this. I [always] feel safe when I get there because we get our temperatures checked before we come in the door, and there’s hand sanitizer everywhere in the studio,” Smith said.

Although the overall situation is less than ideal, these studios’ dedication to their students has allowed dancers to continue their sport as they leap over the many complications of a virus that plagued the world.