Miriam Morgan, director of Durango Dance, uses colorful tape to create 6-foot- square zones on the dance floor, where dancers can practice routines while maintaining social distance.
It is one of many changes to hit the dance world as a result of the coronavirus. Students wear masks in the studio or dance from home while joining class remotely. Morgan has even ordered televisions for studios to help the virtual lessons – now a popular choice among adults.
“Our entire business model has changed,” Morgan said. “Being completely online for 2½ months was really new.”
The pandemic has changed dance, and even threatened studios’ financial stability – but it hasn’t stop Durango from dancing.
The arts and culture industry in the U.S. expects a $9.1 billion economic impact, measured in lost income, lost attendance and other impacts, according to Americans for the Arts. In Durango, Dance in the Rockies, which served more than 100 students, closed because of the pandemic. Ballet Durango estimates a 25% decrease in revenue in 2020, and Durango Dance’s budget took a hit. Despite the turbulent time, dance directors made sure the show went on.
“I’m here for the long haul, and I think my students know that. We’re going to find a way to make it work,” said Frances Rosser Taylor, director of Ballet Durango.
Arts and cultural economic activity accounted for 4.5% of gross domestic product, or $877.8 billion, in 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Nationally, the near future for arts and culture organizations is uncertain. About 17,000 organizations have weighed in on an ongoing survey by Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit based in New York and Washington, D.C. A quarter of them expect a temporary or permanent reduction in staff members, and 59% felt confident they would survive the impact of COVID-19, as of Tuesday.
“Dance, especially ballet, is a way to escape from everything,” said Emma Hallin, a Ballet Durango student and recent Durango High School graduate. “Especially with everything that’s going on. I think now, more than ever, we need some sort of outlet. I think the arts are great for that.”
At Ballet Durango, losing in-person classes when the pandemic response forced businesses to close was a financial hit. Rosser Taylor did not expect enrollment at Ballet Durango to return to pre-pandemic levels – class sizes have to be smaller to comply with public health guidelines and she might have to reduce the number of classes offered.
“The impact will keep going. This has been very hard on a lot of dance studios both locally and nationally,” Rosser Taylor said.
Morgan had to postpone Durango Dance’s recital to September – losing an important source of revenue that helps tide the business over through the slow summer. Dance camp, with its colorful, social-distancing zones and masked dancers, has helped the studio with cash flow, she said.
“Our plan, basically, is just to get kids in the door and to think outside of the box,” Morgan said.
A pandemic-style of danceTime in the studio, however, is about more than finances. That’s what drove studio directors to find every way possible to continue holding lessons, even during a pandemic.
“If I can’t dance, I feel more depressed. I just don’t feel good in my own body,” Morgan said. “For our students, they’ve all said this has been a light for them during the week.”
Morgan drew from other country’s adaptations, like using video streaming. She quickly launched into online lessons – now popular with adults. She adapted the summer dance camp, changing how students enter the building and how lessons are taught. She even bought an ozone generator with germicidal ultraviolet light to clean the building, Morgan said.
At Ballet Durango, students trained all year for the national CRU Dance competition, only to have it postponed, seemingly indefinitely. Then, the studio’s summer recital was postponed, and postponed again.
“Losing the end-of-the-year recital with dance was even harder to lose (than graduation) because I hold dance closer to me, personally, than school,” Hallin said.
Rosser Taylor said the studio community tried everything. Finally, they were able to rent a space at La Plata County Fairgrounds. They set up a backdrop and side panels and borrowed the old floor from the concert hall to make it look like a stage.
The dancers wore masks – hot and difficult to breathe in – as they rehearsed, some preparing for their last recital with the studio. Only one parent per student was allowed to attend.
“It was a bit challenging, but the importance of wearing a mask and staying safe definitely surpassed any inconvenience,” Hallin said. “That’s something that all of us at the studio understood.”