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How My Studio Survived COVID-19

Published on September 22nd 2020 by Hillary-Marie

Today I’m sharing with you the story of how my studio made it through COVID-19.

No rent forgiveness.
No rent deferral.
No refunds from venues.
No lay-offs of Team members.

But we did it!

Here’s an update on everything that’s gone on since stay-at-home orders hit New Jersey back in March 2020.

On March 10th, 2020, we started having conversation about the potential need for online learning, but we assumed that we were maybe 1-2 weeks away from a potential school closure. On March 12th, 2020, it became evident that school closure was imminent and we had an emergency Team meeting to prepare everyone for what was coming next. I had anticipated that the closure was coming because I had seen the quarantines hit friends in other states. On March 13th 2020, schools announced their closure and we immediately closed our doors.

It happened much faster then we could have anticipated and we hit the ground running. I knew in my heart that the closure would be a minimum of 6 weeks, so I wanted to get on top of it as fast as possible and we immediately pre-recorded 6 weeks worth of material for 45 classes.

I held off on going live on Zoom immediately until April for a few reasons:
We needed to focus on filming and editing the On Demand content.
I knew Zoom would be a novelty thing for the kids. They’d find it fun and awesome and cool, until they didn’t… until the weather would warm up… until the screen fatigue would kick in…
Zoom classes alone are not sufficient to deliver a high quality dance education to CHILDREN.

I’m thankful we filmed and edited so much On Demand content because:
It gave the kids additional support
We created tangible assets that we could reuse in the future as preview classes, or for teacher training
We could push the kids to the videos for review and support if they missed a class because we did NOT offer playbacks for Zoom classes.

So we Zoomed April and May, we had one screen-free week when we could feel the kids burning out from the screens. We did a costume pick-up drive-by parade in the parking lot, and we worked towards making quarantine music videos. Each of the Groovers filmed themselves in their backyards doing their dances at the end of May, and we edited over 350 videos into music videos. Between the ON Demand course content we created, and the music videos we created, we edited well over 1000 videos. Woah!

We took these music videos and we live-streamed the concert in a “simulated live-stream” format for their friends and family to watch and it was attended by over 1,000 people. We had a rolling chat feature included and some fun moments during the show - we gave the kids glow sticks in envelopes and told them not to open until we said so, and we taught them a cool body percussion tutting dance during the live-stream - there were moments for them to type into the chat and shout out their friends, their teachers, their company. It was engaging, it was professional, it was high-quality, it was innovative, and it was AWESOME.

Here's a link to one of our music videos.

I did NOT opt for an outdoor concert. At the time, there was no telling when we could potentially do an outdoor gathering. It could’ve been next week, or it could’ve been us waiting until the Fall. I really wanted to wrap up the season and not drag it out. These kids had been working on their dances since February, and to have them hold out for a Fall Season performance would mean dragging it out. And again, without the guarantee of being allowed to gather outdoors or indoors.

So we made it! We made it to June 14th, we finished the season, and I felt like we could finally take a breath. I worked 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3 months straight. I was whole-heartedly dedicated to making sure each of my Team members had a job, and that our Groovers were taken care of.

The emotional, mental and physical well-being of the children was most important to us. We knew that this would not be short, and we knew that this would be a huge struggle for our Groovers. Our focus before COVID-19 was offering the highest quality Hip-Hop and Tap Dance training in the North Jersey area, and it all shifted. We knew in our hearts that the training we were offering was now the vehicle in which we would provide our Groovers with a sense of community and connection at a time when they needed it the most. And we did it.

From there, we waited it out. We had a lot of requests to teach dance classes in the backyards of our families, and we didn’t do it. First off, my Team needed a break. They gave their heart and soul to the studio during COVID with 8-hour filming days, trying to homeschool while teaching Zoom class, pushing through injuries. You name it. They gave 200% at all times, and they did it willingly. We were all exhausted, and I felt that they needed (and deserved) a break.

I also felt that backyard dancing presented tricky problems. How do I guarantee the safety of my Team? Families want to be in their backyard because they feel safer there, but I can’t take care of my Team when it’s on someone else’s turf. How do I make sure teachers have enough hours in a day to make the drive worth it? Weather cancellations? Too many challenging variables.

But also, I felt that if we did outdoor backyard classes, that it would be very difficult to transition dancers back into the studio when the time came. Outside in their backyard is convenient and easy for them. They feel safer and they don’t have to put much effort into it. Who’s going to want to step away from that?

I thought about buying a tent, and running outdoor classes near the studio. Problem was, an appropriate tent would’ve cost over $10,000, and I don’t think the money we would’ve made would’ve off-set that investment, especially given that I’m in NJ and outdoors won’t be an option for much longer. Snow can come as early as October, and then Hurricane season brings residual rain. It just wasn’t worth it to spend such a large amount of money for a product I could only use 2-3 months.

We did in-studio private lessons, social distanced with masks, and those were great. Many people thought they’d be more comfortable outdoors, but they were actually better off indoors with the mask because the outdoor heat and humidity were just unbearable.

Then we ran some music video workshops and those were awesome. Also masked and socially distant. Click here to check out one of the music videos we created. It was just the best, seeing everyone transition back into the studio. These workshops also gave us a chance to test out our Safe Studio Strategy, and figure out what protocols worked, what didn’t work, what we needed or didn’t need, so we could adjust accordingly in time for the Fall Season.

And now, at the time of recording this episode, I’m just a few days away from the first day of our Fall Season of dance.

So that’s that! That’s how we survived COVID and made it to the other side, without rent forgiveness, without rent deferral, without refunds from venues and without laying off a single member of our Team.

I’m proud of what we did and I’ll be sharing with you some of my biggest lessons learned during this crazy time in a future episode.

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