Dance classes have looked different lately for ballet students in Nevada County after COVID-19 required a blackout and then a restructuring of class logistics, but training continued, both virtually and in person.
“We’re ready to put on a spring show if we can do it,” said Yelena Holt, founder of the Holt Ballet Conservatory.
According to Holt, running classes through Zoom was the first outlet the conservatory took after a March shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The dance studios, classified as fitness centers under California’s COVID-19 guidelines, were allowed to reopen with restrictions in June, and the conservatory did so in July.
Holt has marked 6-foot distances on the ground, set up 8-foot-long portable bars, which are disinfected between each use, and in-person classes at the St. Joseph Cultural Center in Grass Valley have resumed.
“The kids are really happy to be back in the studio,” Holt said, adding, however, that students and staff at the conservatory lament that a winter performance of The Nutcracker doesn’t seem achievable at this point.
“I was worried that without this motivation the students would be dull,” she said. “But that didn’t turn out to be true. They seem very enthusiastic, so I have to admit to my teachers that they make the lessons interesting and fun, while sticking to a good classical training.
The conservatory’s enrollment has declined since March, from around 80 to 55 students. Holt said this is in part due to a drop in new registrations, the reduction in the size of the introductory level classes while the intermediate and advanced classes remain fairly full, as well as the temporary suspension of the pre-ballet education. This level of education is typically aimed at children aged 3 to 5, and staff at the conservatory were concerned that this age level would have difficulty staying far enough away and keeping their mask on, according to Holt.
Outside of this younger age group, using the mask did not present any major issues for Holt and other instructors, who experimented to find a level of exertion that best suited the students.
“We changed the teaching so that we didn’t take as many high aerobic steps as we normally would,” said Holt, adding that students can also sit momentarily or adjust their activity as needed.
According to Holt, the use of the mask played an important role in helping instructors feel comfortable teaching a group.
Krista Pagan, director of the Nevada City Ballet Academy, echoed the feeling that teaching and learning ballet while wearing a mask presented challenges, but those were manageable.
For Pagan, the main difficulty with the mask was teaching some of his younger students, who previously relied heavily on verbal and facial cues for instruction and now find it difficult to understand them through a mask.
In order to allow for distancing in the studio space, classes that previously housed 18 students now number around 10, according to Pagan.
Although in-person classes resumed in June at the Nevada City Ballet Academy, virtual classes held on Zoom also continued to accommodate families who prefer not to have their child return to teaching in person.
Pagan said these classes presented their own set of challenges, mainly due to the varying levels of Internet connection among the students and the resulting problems with the synchronicity of music and movement; she said it’s also common in ballet for instructors to offer a practical adjustment to a student’s position or alignment, an aspect made impossible by virtual dance lessons.
“It’s better than nothing, but it’s a challenge just because there’s usually a delay with the sound,” Pagan said. “But it’s nice to still be able to have contact with them, even if it’s virtual.”
Victoria Penate is a writer for The Union. She can be reached at [email protected]