Students at a dance studio and a martial arts school in Swift Current have something in common during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They are able to keep on training while staying at home, because their instructors are determined to still provide students the opportunity to practise and learn.
The Dance Studio and Swift Current Christian Tae Kwon Do have both been embracing online technology to continue operating while group classes cannot take place due to public health requirements for physical distancing.
“It was incredibly hard,” Melissa Wallace said about her decision to temporarily close The Dance Studio for in-person classes. “Dance is a very physical and in-person activity, like any sport, and getting to be with and see the students and have that energy in the studio with them every day is just so wonderful. So not being able to do that was incredibly difficult.”
She immediately started to consider what other options were available after she announced the postponement of dance classes on March 16.
“I felt bad enough for all these kids who weren't able to take part in any of their activities anymore and I wanted to make sure that I could do something so that they could still be able to do some activity while they're at home,” she said. “There's a lot of great dance teacher support networks out there that have been very helpful in offering ideas and support for everybody. There's been lots of information and sharing going on in the dance community so that we can all help keep kids dancing.”
She wanted to maintain a connection with dancers and therefore created a private Facebook group and Instagram page for students and parents.
“In there we're able to share some training videos, and different fun little challenges and group messages for the students and parents,” she said. “We've had lots of great interaction, where the kids are creative and sharing videos that they've made at home, and sharing pictures and positive comments for their friends. It just offers a nice private platform for them to keep interacting, because there is such a social aspect to coming to the studio for the parents and the dancers, and now obviously we don't get to meet in person every week.”
Another important step was to resume regular dance classes online through Zoom, an online video conferencing service, on March 23.
“Some of the feedback that I've gotten is that the kids were really excited to see me and their other teachers and their friends, even though it's on a screen,” she said. “It's definitely a different feeling and a different energy, but personally I've really enjoyed being able to see the kids and work with them. I get them talking and answering questions. So we're always interacting and being as social as we can be while all being in our own house.”
For Gary Voysey of Swift Current Christian Tae Kwon Do the transition to a virtual classroom was quite easy, because he was already working on an online model before the pandemic.
“I've been practising with our kickboxing class to deliver it online a little while ago and then I got busy,” he said. “I think I was ahead of the curve better than most people. … It's been relatively painless. There's been a few glitches along the way when we first rolled it out, simply because I just needed to adapt to the technology.”
His virtual classroom for Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing training already started on March 16. The online training is very similar to what students have done during in-person classes, but for practical reasons some aspects such as sparring cannot be done in this manner. He also included some additional elements to make the online training sessions more fun.
“We just added things to the curriculum to make it more fun for the kids and it's been really well received,” he said. “I'm getting such great feedback from the parents and the kids themselves, because they're excited that they're still training, but also the extra stuff that I'm having them do is just making it fun for them.”
These extras include age specific drills that were created by a martial artist in the United States who is also a child development specialist. The drills can be done by students in-between the virtual classrooms. He also created a live online training program for families who want to stay fit at home, but who do not want to participate in a traditional martial arts program.
Voysey felt the interactive nature of his online program is an important benefit for participants, and this is taking the training to another level in comparison to just watching and following a traditional training video.
“The great thing about what we're doing is there's full interaction between the instructors, the students and even amongst the students themselves, and they're cheering each other on,” he said. “It's just been a great community online.”
The online training is taking place on a level that will even make it possible for students to complete testing and receive their next belt.
“We have testing coming up in a couple of weeks for our little guys and we'll just do it online,” he said. “They'll get their belts and their certificates and everything else.”
The Dance Studio students are similarly learning new work and even doing choreography of different dances during their live online classes.
“I'm also recording work for the dancers to practice and sending them videos, and typing out notes and sending notes to them,” Wallace said.
It has been an interesting experience for the dancers and their instructors to work on the choreography of different dances during these online classes. Sometimes the dancers will do dance moves without music and other times in combination with the soundtrack. Dancers have started using their own devices to play the same piece of music during these sessions, because the sound is not always very clear over the online connection.
“It's been lining up really well and they're all dancing at the same time,” she said. “So it's like watching the group dance, but just in the individual little boxes on the screen. For some of the smaller groups, like our duos and trios, from my point of view on my screen they're exactly in time with each other. It looks like they are going to the same place on stage and actually connecting with their partners in that same space and in their correct spacing that they should be on stage, which is really cool to see.”
According to Wallace the online classes provide a completely different challenge compared to any other teaching she has done before. She is able to connect her laptop to a large television screen, which makes it easier to view and evaluate the moves of dancers.
“I can't do a hands-on correction, like we would normally do in the studio,” she said. “They're using their cameras like a mirror basically and working to fix that. We've actually in each class had improvements with different techniques that we're working on through my verbal corrections and them seeing themselves on their screen. We've also had some fun with the students helping and giving feedback to each other, which we like to do in class a lot too, because it always helps you improve yourself if you can give feedback and helpful corrections to a fellow student.”
Wallace is happy to use the online format to provide dancers with the opportunity to train and enjoy some social interaction. At the same time, she needs to consider options that will help her to keep the studio running during the pandemic and she also needs to plan for when regular classes can resume afterwards.
“I know this is going to affect every aspect of the economy,” she said about the pandemic. “So there's going to be a lot of different things to look at and pursue to make sure that dance will be feasible for everybody coming up in the rest of this year and our new season.”
Voysey is also looking ahead to the future. His virtual training classes have attracted interest from elsewhere in the province and even from the United States. He is therefore planning to continue with the online format after the pandemic. Meanwhile he is keeping a positive attitude with regard to the challenging situation that everyone is facing during this pandemic.
“I just want to really mention to everybody out there, we can get through this,” he said. “We're going to make it through, it's just going to be a hard go for a little while and as a Christian I believe prayer goes a long way, but honestly just as a society I think we can do this.”