In the middle of their spring semester, with a nationwide shutdown looming, the Brattleboro School of Dance, like many businesses and activities across the nation, closed its studio on High Street. But instead of just sitting back and waiting out the closure, Director and Owner Bridget Struthers was soon reaching out and seeing what her students needed. In response, she created a slate of online classes to keep current students engaged, while also welcoming newcomers to get up and move… all from home.
“We sent out an email saying we were closing our door on Friday, March 13. That whole week was going back and forth knowing we would close soon, but it came down to a call from a parent letting me know they had been on a campus with someone with a confirmed case. With kids in the studio and knowing they can’t not touch, I made the decision to close,” Struthers said. “I wasn’t sure what to do for the first week because every single day there seemed to be a different trajectory of what the spring and summer would look like. Then I called a few of our long-time parents and asked what their kids needed, and they said some form of moving their bodies. So we made an appointment where we could all meet on Zoom to do ballet.”
What started as a way to stay in touch with and help studio families keep their children engaged and moving in a structured way has since expanded into a full series of dance classes for both children and adults, beginners and long-time dancers. During the week there are between two and four classes per day, including options such as Embody Pilates, Body Mind Centering, Jazz and Ballet for Adults. For youth, Struthers is holding creative dance classes and multiple ballet levels.
“It was important for our more committed and advanced dancers to continue their physical training. It is really hard to take multiple months off, so keeping bodies moving was important,” she said. “Practically, we wanted to keep in touch with the community and more organically it has come about that having a routine has helped families.”
Moving to Zoom hasn’t been without challenges, however. Struthers said that as a ballet and dance instructor, she is most used to a physical style of teaching where she can correct students posture or movements through touch. With Zoom she has had to expand and “try to think more imagery based.”
“Sometimes I will demonstrate a combination and then go really close to the screen to see [the students try],” she said. “My goal is to keep the class structured and to go through a ritual of steps, but try to stress being self-aware and having students use a personal checklist.”
“It’s definitely added a necessary sense of humor,” she added. “Some people join the class late, we have to make sure the sound works, and logistically not everyone’s internet connection is the same, so I am sure that can be frustrating. I am also not as strict in the Zoom class, but I think that is what this time calls for.”
One of the biggest losses has been the energy and vibrancy that gathering together as a class in the studio with the music and the passion from the students, brings. But on the other side of that, Struthers said it has been fun to observe students at home and in some classes, especially among her youngest students, have parents join in.
“Among the biggest rewards,” she said, “has been seeing how close and meaningful our dance community is.”
The Zoom classes are open to anyone with the schedule posted on the Brattleboro School of Dance website for the greater community to take a look and join. While a donation would be appreciated for those not currently enrolled with the school, Struthers has said it is not a requirement, as she knows this is a trying time and that every family is facing a different situation.
“We have new students and return students who had stopped dancing because of other activities who are joining us again,” she said.
While the physical studio has been closed, in addition to the Zoom classes, Struthers has been working on curriculum for when she can open to live students again. She is looking to add a pre-professional track for her more serious dancers while also continuing to offer classes for youngsters, starting as soon as they can walk, with a creative dance class and then progressing to multiple ballet levels as well as tap, hip-hop and modern dance.
For adults, there are multiple options and levels to pick from so that any adult who wants to dance can do so in a setting they are comfortable with. Some classes are for adults only and others are multi-generational. In addition, the style of dance available for adults ranges from absolute beginner ballet to a “fun jazz class that is a Beyonce version,” with multiple other options in between.
“The Zoom classes are not a replacement [for our in-studio classes], but they are a different thing,” Struthers said. “The response has been pretty positive. Parents are saying thank you so much and that their child looks forward to their class. People have been kind and forgiving for any glitches and I think they are just happy to be along for the ride.”
To learn more about both the current Zoom classes or the traditional in-studio classes offered at Brattleboro School of Dance, visit brattleboroschoolofdance.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/BrattleboroSchoolOfDance.