With the pandemic raging on, dance studios have had to get creative to stay open. Some are hosting virtual classes, others are setting up outdoor workshops, many are offering a hybrid of online and in-person classes.
But their efforts to save their businesses hinge on their local dance communities. Without support from their students, many might be forced to close their doors permanently—and several already have. What can dancers do to help their studios?
Ask Studio Owners What They Need
There are many ways to advocate for your local dance studio, but the best place to start is contacting the studio owners or directors. Dorothy Dubrule, who recently made the hard decision to close Pieter Performance Space in Los Angeles (though the organization has continued digital programming), firmly believes the dancer–studio relationship is a two-way street.
"Reach out to the leadership of your beloved studios to find out what they need, but also to let them know what their community needs," Dubrule says.
No contribution is too small, volunteering included. "Too often we forget that nonmonetary forms of support have great value, and assume we have nothing to give," Dubrule says. Find out if there is a fundraising plan in the works, or ways you can help advocate within the community.
Contact Elected Officials
It might be intimidating to dial the phone or write the formal letter to local officials, but trust that individual stories and personal messages have more power to change minds than robo-dialers. "It's actually far more meaningful when there are personal anecdotes connected to those moments of outreach," executive director of Dance/NYC Alejandra Duque Cifuentes says. She suggests telling your personal stories in a simple way as opposed to following a pre-scripted email.
Join Collective Action Groups
"In 2020 it feels more clear than ever: Collective action and shared resources are the future," Dubrule says. For instance, Dance/NYC not only wrote a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, but it also launched a new campaign: Artists Are Necessary Workers.
Find a global, national or local advocacy campaign, spread the message on social media and increase visibility for the plight of dancers. PMT House of Dance founder Pavan Thimmaiah says, "Speak up, get involved, educate yourself on what's going on, find a studio that is advocating for you."
Thimmaiah joined forces with New York City dance studios to create an advocacy group: Ballroom Hub, PMT House of Dance, Peridance Center, Steps on Broadway, José Limón Dance Foundation and others collaborated to fight for the needs of all dance studios, regardless of style. Together, NYC Dance Studio Alliance launched a petition to "Help Save The Future of Dancing in New York City."
For Thimmaiah, this is a potential shift in the dance culture mentality. "The audition culture is about trying to get ahead. But this is not a situation where getting ahead is going to help anyone." Because at the end of the day, "we all want to get on the floor and move and move safely."
Pay for Virtual Classes If You Can (Even if They’re Donation-Based)
Some studios are surviving the pandemic by hosting entirely virtual programming. While dancing at home is not the same experience as a studio, it's important for dancers to pay for virtual classes. Unlike most industries, dancers sustain their own field.
"A lot of dance teachers who are also dancers themselves are finding themselves teaching and not being compensated at the same level for their work," Duque Cifuentes says. "If you are a dancer and you are continuing to be trained, contribute financially to those classes, to those studios and to those teachers that are keeping the industry alive right now."
Dancers can also ask to buy class packages for future use. "Think of it as an investment," Thimmaiah says. Better yet, Thimmaiah recommends buying class packages for someone else who can't afford the expense. Every dollar helps a dance studio stay open.
Build the Dance Community You Want
If your go-to studio closes, don't just lose hope—shift your efforts to helping another studio stay open. "Do some research on what are the studios near you," suggests Duque Cifuentes. "Maybe there's one that you didn't go to before, or maybe there's another one that you could develop a relationship with." Other local studios are likely facing similar pressures, and could also end up shutting their doors if dancers don't rally around them.
Many studios are pivoting to accommodate not only COVID-19 limitations, but also reevaluating their programming and operations. "We've been laying the groundwork for a lot of changes in the last few months, and I am so excited to see Pieter grow in the direction of what we aspire to become: an inclusive platform for dancing bodies of all kinds," Dubrule says. Although it no longer has a physical studio right now, the Pieter Performance Space has committed to creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion advisory committee as it figures out the next steps.
Dancers have a unique opportunity to join forces with studios and shape the future of their dance communities. Dubrule says, "I really feel like the pandemic knocked down the studio walls and forced us to focus on the people who have been holding us up all along."