A popular Yellowknife dance studio has rapidly shifted classes online in a bid to restore some sense of normality to its young students’ lives.
The Bella Dance Academy can’t run in-person classes while emergency pandemic measures like physical distancing remaining in place. But kids and parents have found fun in the alternative.
Photos of gatherings on video chat app Zoom, with a dozen or more kids performing in bedrooms and living rooms across the territorial capital, have been gleefully shared online.
Parent Jocelyn Christensen says in a time where things can feel uncertain, overwhelming, or scary, this is exactly what her nine-year-old daughter, Adze, needs.
Adze had in-studio dance classes six days a week before Covid-19 shut down non-essential businesses.
She’s still getting that connection online, despite the physical boundaries.
“It’s a time every single day that she knows, regardless of what’s going on at school, she has her dance group family to fall back on,” said Jocelyn.
“The biggest concern was, ‘but what about dance?’
“For Adze, no matter what’s going on at school, she’s guaranteed that six days out of the week she’s got this group she can trust.”
A section of the group’s website, Bella Dance Online, sprang to life in March. There are now more than 40 scheduled online classes each week, featuring a dozen instructors.
Students during an online dance class.
Phoenix Smith, studio director at Bella Dance Academy, said feedback has been positive.
“So far we’ve got a really, really great response,” said Smith. “The feedback we’re getting is [parents] really appreciate that their kids continue to do something that didn’t get taken away in the last couple of weeks here.”
She said it’s reassuring to see students ready to learn, even through technology she and many parents and staff had not used before.
“Seeing little ones going, ‘Oh, there’s my teacher,’ and they are still all dressed up in their leotards and tights is great to see,” she said.
“With some of my older girls I got emotional just seeing them in that way and interacting in ways that I’m familiar with, but it’s all just so new.”
‘A big part of my life’
Adze Christensen, taking time out from chatting on Zoom with her classmates, said she hopes to keep learning as many dance moves as she can. One day she imagines being a professional, dancing the lead as Clara in the Nutcracker.
“It’s fun to work at home, but also do the same stuff we do at the studio,” she said about her online classes.
Ally Curtis, Bella Dance instructor and student, said everyone had been “so welcoming to the idea.”
“For our year-end performance, they’ve learned all their steps already. Now it’s just putting what they know together in a dance, with music and notes for choreography that they’re given.”
Curtis said being able to continue teaching and learning had been a relief.
“It’s brought routine back into my life and there’s a little bit more normalcy to my day, something to look forward to,” she said.
Isabella Houweling is 11 years old. She has been dancing since she was two. “It’s cool to see your dance teachers and all your dance mates on FaceTime instead of in the studio,” she said.
“I was worried that I wasn’t going to dance but then, when I found out I was going to do the Zoom, it was way better,” she said. “Dance is a pretty big part of my life.”
Smith said: “It’s not an ideal way to teach but it’s not impossible.
“It’s not just about dance, it’s about those relationships too. That’s more what we are striving to maintain.”
The show will go on
Bella is starting a nine-week session for ages two to five – to be delivered through virtual learning – where budding students can try dance, ballet, and even hip-hop with their parents.
The academy has increased its scholarship fund to help families who can’t afford to continue with the program.
When asked about end-of-season performances, Smith told Cabin Radio the academy is looking at ways students can still run a show now that NACC has closed its season until September.
She hopes to find a workable alternative, like holding performances outdoors.
“Being able to celebrate these kids at the end of the year is usually exciting,” said Smith.
“To celebrate and see them come out with something after all of this would be even more rewarding for everyone.”