Published on September 22nd 2020 by Hillary-Marie
Lesson #1: It truly is possible to run an awesome, high-quality tap dance program solely on Zoom. I was skeptical at first. I held off on moving iTapOnline over to Zoom because I felt it would be a short-term wow-factor type of thing, and that everyone’s technique would get sloppy, and that I’d be doing a disservice to their tap dance training. And man, was I WRONG. We are DANCING on Zoom in iTapOnline. I’ve seen each of my students get BETTER. If you’re a tap teacher listening to this, surely you can empathize with students’ technique getting sloppy during quarantine. Not the iTapOnline Members! They’re crushing it. They’re focused. They’re all-in. With iTapOnline, I’ve been able to offer more to them. For 80% of the cost of one weekly class, iTapOnline Members have access to 3 classes per week, and they are showing up for all of it! And they have access to Playbacks (and they watch them). I’m seeing each of these dancers develop their own personal practice. They’re dancing more NOW than they were dancing pre-COVID, and they’re developing a deeper relationship with the dance, and it’s just beautiful.
Lesson #2: When doing something new, you have to wipe your slate clean. Everyone was very concerned about how to run an in-studio style tap class on Zoom. How do we do across the floor on a tiny tap floor? How do we get them to go one at a time? How do we watch our students while we demonstrate? Ultimately, everyone was trying to copy and paste their in-studio tap class over to Zoom. The question was, how do I teach my in-studio tap class on Zoom? And the answer is, you don’t. The reason my Zoom class format works so well is because I was willing to wipe my slate clean and approach it differently. Folding technical exercises into long-form follow-along style warm-ups, tweeking my approach to call and response, teaching everything on the left hand side facing the camera so my students could connect with my face and therefore my words. Experimenting with new tech to make sure I’m offering the best experience possible, while continuing to honor the 5 Fundamentals of Tap Dance.
Lesson #3: Now is NOT the time for Comparisonitis. I’m in a mastermind group with dance studio owners all around the world, Australia, Europe, U.S., west coast, east coast, you name it. And I saw zero, and I mean ZERO consistency across the board. One studio lost all their students over the age of 13, and another lost all their students under the age of 7. One lost their whole children/teen program and another lost their whole adult program. One lost their company kids while another had 100% retention of their company kids but lost all their rec kids. One studio did an outdoor recital that all the families attended and loved, another did an outdoor recital that people didn’t show up to out of fear of crowds. I learned during this time how truly individual each area surrounding each studio is, and that what works for one studio does not for another, and that means it’s a great time to put the blinders on. I’ve always been good at having blinders on because Grooves is a niche market dance studio, but I took them off briefly, and after 1 month of observing the industry and realizing there was zero industry standard, I put them right back on.
Lesson #4: The time for transparency is NOW.
There’s that desire and inclination to keep things to yourself. Put out the fires before anyone even notices that things have gone wrong and don’t let them see you sweat! That’s show business, right? I’m all about making things look easy and striving for a flawless professionalism. In fact, I’m often obsessed with it. But I found that COVID wasn’t the time and place for that. I was upfront with students and families - telling them how hard our Team was working behind the scenes, telling them the challenges we were facing, sharing with them our contingency plans. I’m not talking about whining and complaining - I’m talking about being transparent, real and very open. But this doesn’t just extend to our students and families at the studio, it also extended to our Team. We were SO transparent about what the reality of this situation was with our Team, what the unknowns were, what the different future options were under specific circumstances, etc. I didn’t sugar coat anything. That doesn’t mean it was all doom and gloom though. I approached it with a realistic optimism and regular reminders that this is temporary and we will make it to the other side. This transparency, with students, families and Team members helped us to solve problems quickly and better understand the needs of everyone involved so we could make moves and do what needed to be done.
Lesson #5: Crisis Mode Means Logic and Strategy Only: Problem pops up? Solve it. Question? Answer it. Fear? Negate it. There hit a point where I couldn’t be emotional about it anymore. Quarantine extended? Okay. No recital? Okay. Schools canceled til the end of the year? Okay. Another family dropped? Okay. Another scholarship application? Okay. WiFi is out? Okay. Zoom installed an update that broke everyone’s computers today? Sure! I had to turn into an emotionless zombie to be able to continue to function because my heart couldn’t take it any other way. My heart couldn’t take the pain of students dropping out of dance class, the anxiety of the unknown, the fear of economic collapse, you name is. The sky was falling and I had to turn into a vulcan-style robot to make it to the other side, because my heart just couldn’t handle it. So that meant nothing but logic and strategy. And when I made that shift, when I took the emotion out of it, I was able to do what needed to be done and not be dragged down by the fear, anxiety, sadness and grief that COVID brought along.
Lesson #6: Bringing your best when it matters the most requires sacrifice. I’ve always been a hard worker. I’m a bootstrap type of girl. I do the hard work, I put the time in. But over the years, I learned to pull back, taking better care of myself, I learned to work smarter rather than harder, seeking work-life balance and self-care. And all of that went completely out the window during COVID. From the moment we closed our doors on March 13th til our Virtual Concert date on June 14th, I worked 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. From supporting my Team, to supporting my students, to supporting the parents of my students, to phone calls with the bank, phone calls with the SBA, helping teachers out in the iTapOnline Community to get their Zoom setup straight, sending hand-written snail mail letters to my students, editing videos, teaching my own zoom classes, doing recording sessions, it didn’t stop. I would wake up before my husband, go into my room, and not come out until after he was asleep. We were quarantined in the same house and barely saw each other for months because I was doing everything, literally everything that I could possibly do to make sure my Team had their jobs, that my students had access to a high quality tap dance education online, and that my studio would make it to the other side, all while being forced to pay full rent, no rent forgiveness or deferral. And that’s the way it goes, because bringing your best when it truly matters the most requires sacrifice, and you do what you have to do to make it happen.
Lesson #7: I have the best Team in the world. This goes for both Grooves and iTapOnline. It was all hands on deck during COVID. Testing tech equipment, filming,editing, teaching, researching, you name it. And every single one of my Team members was all in. They gave me THEIR best, when it mattered the most. This is when skills, dedication, relationships, you name it are put to the test. They showed up, they pulled through, and I can’t thank them enough for it. What we achieved would’ve been absolutely impossible without each of their contributions.
Lesson #8: Reality check. I remember one year when a Hurricane hit during Jersey Tap Fest, (which you can hear more about in episode 041), that felt like the end of the world to me. I also remember finding out that our studio’s recital dress rehearsal was the same night as Junior Prom, and being stressed out about it. Or the time we lost our theatre 1 week before a show and we had to change theatres, change seating charts, and rig our own lighting, and the stress of that. Looking back at all the moments that felt like BIG problems, I laugh now. COVID taught me what a REAL challenge looks like. Everything else, all those stressful moments of the past, teachers who overslept their classes, artists who showed up too drunk or high to perform, every crazy thing I’ve dealt with as an event producer, it all feels like gravy now.
Lesson #9: Minimalism is the best. I’m a minimalist at heart. I enjoy living a simple life that’s well beneath my means. Outside of basic living expenses like mortgage, food and transportation, the only other things I spent money on included Muay Thai, massage therapy, physical therapy, chiropractor visits, eating out at restaurants and books. I don’t like to buy new clothes or gadgets. I never have that keeping up with the jones’ type of FOMO. So when closures hit, scaling back financially to play it safe wasn’t a problem. No more massage, no more PT, no more chiro, I did my PT exercises at home on my own, I used my theraband, roller and ball at home to take care of myself. I continued to order some takeout here and there to support my favorite local businesses, but I mostly cooked at home. I did continue to pay my Muay Thai mat fee because I wanted to support them through COVID., butI wasn’t driving anywhere, so I saved a ton of money on gas and tolls. And for books, I went back through my kindle and reread my favorite ones. I’ve enjoyed living a minimalist life-style over the years.
That’s it! I want to hear from you… what lessons did you learn during quarantine? What are your big takeaways from this crazy time period?