COVID-19 has created extraordinary challenges for many small businesses. Mandates that have required dance studio closings until further notice have presented a unique opportunity to pivot into a new way of offering dance lessons online.
Olga Berest, director of Berest Dance in Port Washington, N.Y., rose to that challenge: she has transitioned their dance classes to virtual learning. She notes:
“I wanted to be a pioneer and to find a way to continue serving the students. It’s worth planning. It’s worth figuring out. It’s all worth it for the students.”
With a focus on helping other studios navigate this unprecedented time, Olga shares how Berest Dance transitioned to serve over 300 students online and how your studio can, too. You can also learn more in our recent guide to adapting to COVID-19 demands.
How long has Berest Dance been in business?
Berest Dance is a family business that started in 1976. I have been managing our center for 43 years.
What type of dance lessons do you offer at Berest and to what age groups?
Berest Dance offers classes for all ages and levels, from students as young as two all the way up to their grandparents. We offer over 60 classes, and are open seven days a week.
Our most popular classes include Ballet, Modern and Contemporary. Our students are also offered a roster of Jazz, Lyrical, Tap, Broadway, Hip-Hop, and more with combo classes and specialty classes for boys.
How long have you been operating online dance classes?
We began shortly after school closings due to COVID-19 began. Businesses had not closed as yet, but Berest always follows the schools in our town. It’s been nearly three weeks now since we originally started offering online dance classes.
How many instructors, classes, and students do you have online?
We have ten faculty members teaching online. Not all classes yet, but we are very close. We serve over 300 registered students at Berest, and within this next week are aiming to have all of them in live online classes, over 67 classes!
How did you get started? What were your original thoughts before moving forward?
We realized our dance center might be closed for an extended period of time. Someone had just tested positive in our town. Schools had closed and we always closed with the schools. It was important that Berest Dance continue to keep our students dancing and continue to keep paying our faculty. We knew we needed to find a solution.
As a community endeavor, we worked in collaboration with other dance centers in our town by setting up a video platform of classes offered seven days a week. Organizing our faculty collectively allowed us to offer ten online video classes for our collective students.
The schedule used different genres of dance divided into age groups 2 to 18. Along with this video platform, Berest Dance independently decided to offer live classes but only to upper level students. Beginning Monday March 30, all ages will be included and 67 classes will be live.
How has it been going now that you’ve been up and running online for a bit?
The challenge initially was figuring out how to present classes in a 4x4 space. What do you do to make it work? The amazing part is that once our faculty figured out modifications and adjustments to their teaching, the plan worked!
In addition, our younger students were so excited to reconnect with their instructor and friends in the class. Our live online classes give them that experience, with instructors teaching from home and students joining in real-time for a more personal, connected class. The change has been enthusiastically received.
"I really hope this post is beneficial to others because I believe that it needs to be done. For others to find ways to continue serving their students despite these challenges."
What video service does Berest use for live videos? Does it differ from the pre-recorded video service?
We are using Zoom for our live classes. For privacy, we wanted a platform to share only with registered students to keep them safe. Zoom has been really great for that. A paid subscription to Zoom ensures we are not limited to 45-min classes, and each studio has its own URL.
Once a student downloads Zoom and has set up their account, they can use the link for their dance class location to view the schedule and join the appropriate class. It’s easy; if I can figure it out, anyone can!
Connecting in a live class with fellow students and their instructor has made all the difference. Students enjoy it much more and are more engaged in class. It brings a sense of togetherness and normalcy to the day, which is exactly what we wanted in this time of social distancing.
Berest’s “Zoom Etiquette” email that we sent out to parents also ensures that every student has a great experience. Students are asked to not arrive early and to “mute” their presence so as to minimize disruptions to classes in session. Students under eight may need help logging in, and we expect students and parents alike to keep the links for their studio confidential to maintain privacy and security.
How is attendance since you’ve transitioned students to online?
Same as before! One of our instructors typically has an online class of 24 ballet students, which is normal for in-person classes.
Not only has attendance stabilized, but we are also seeing students take classes that they might not ordinarily take. We allow them to take as many online classes within their level as they want, and many students are taking advantage of this to explore new styles.
How long did it take for you to get up and running with Zoom and what was the hardest part?
Within one weekend of signing up for Zoom, we had figured out class logistics and how we would handle the online operations.
Figuring out how to have three classes run at the same time was the hardest part. We are still working through some of those challenges, but we have a great start.
Has any other area of your operations changed since using Zoom for your classes?
Nothing else has changed. We’ve been using Studio Director to run Berest for over 20 years and continue to use it now.
Class schedules, payments, emails with instructions to log on to Zoom: all of this still runs seamlessly through Studio Director.
What information should other studios know before considering live video classes?
The safety and privacy of our students is of paramount importance. We emphasize the security of our studio links; they are only sent to current students and should not be shared. We inform our parents of this precaution and communicate the importance of keeping our class links private to ensure our children’s safety.
Our instructors have also had to adapt and change the way they teach from home. They may not have a dedicated studio space, and they cannot take breaks as they could before. Classes have to be worked out in advance – even the ones that instructors have taught for years!
But our faculty is incredibly flexible. We now have one instructor teach a live class with a live pianist, which is a testament to what can be done!
Any final thoughts for other studios trying to figure this out?
I believe that dancers want to keep dancing as was witnessed when we presented our plan to our faculty and families. It’s important for others to find ways to continue serving their students and keep paying their staff.
The challenges of dancing in a small space and learning how to set up your online classes can be overcome. It can be done and it works, as the Berest Dance Center has witnessed.
If you are unsettled about using videoconferencing, you just need to take the first step. Your faculty and students are familiar with this technology and will be grateful for the opportunity to connect with each other. You are offering a service and protecting your business. It’s worth it.