How the Pandemic Is Reconnecting Dance Alums to Their Home Studios

Mattie Love with Dance Impressions students in Farmington, Utah. Photo courtesy of Love

Tara Larsen was seated at her desk, working from home à la the pandemic, when a notification for an Instagram Live from her old dance studio popped up on her phone. Having moved to Bellevue, Washington, to work at Microsoft, it had been years since she had taken class at The Pointe Academy in Highland, Utah. It was the perfect opportunity to both see old friends and get up and move—two things the coronavirus has severely impacted. She hopped on.

"It was so fun to do battements and leaps across the floor, even if my neighbors below might not have loved it," Larsen says. "I got to comment on the killer combo, and hear the instructor (who actually used to dance on my team) talk to me through the screen and say she missed me."

With studios offering virtual classes—often open to anyone on Facebook or Instagram—many alums (both pros and those who no longer dance) have found themselves in similar positions to Larsen: returning home to the place that shaped them as both artists and individuals.

"The Pointe was where I learned to work hard," Larsen says. "Getting on that IG Live reminded me of how I felt when I first discovered that kind of work ethic. It meant a lot to me to be reminded of what shaped my technique, what I love about dance and how I look at it today."

The Dance Club in Orem, Utah, held a virtual alumni class in which 70 former dancers participated. "It was like reconnecting with family, with my children," says Dance Club studio manager and co-owner Allison Thornton. "Many said it was like coming home." Though some professional dancers took class online to refine their technique in the interim before the dance industry reopens, for many, it was simply a chance to exercise, and feel connected to others while physically isolating. "We all need a combination of both right now," Thornton says. "The first portion of class was spent catching up and hearing where everyone is now."

But it's not just virtual classes that are calling dancers home. As parts of the country open up, studios are seeing an influx of alumni—often dancers who fled large cities to ride out the pandemic with family—in their physical classes, as well. Once Utah began its phased reopening in mid-May, TDC returned to the studio with new COVID guidelines. Since then, successful alumni like Jacki Ford, Ali Deucher and others have shown up to learn from their hometown heroes, or to teach master classes they wouldn't have otherwise been available for.

Similarly, Mattie Love, a recent ensemble member of the Wicked national tour, returned to Farmington, Utah, to teach and choreograph at her childhood studio, Dance Impressions—something her schedule doesn't generally permit. The experience intensified Love's passion for teaching. "The dancers were so receptive in class," she says. "They have been in their living space for so long, they are so eager to be in the studio again." Love herself was also eager to be there. "COVID has sparked creativity in my choreography that I didn't even know I was capable of."

As the dance industry continues to grapple with what the future will bring, a return to the studio is a bright spot studio alumni can continue to look to. "This is a beautiful time to flourish," Love says.

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Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.

Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.

Last year, the pair launched an online component, Dance & Co. The online video platform offers beginner through advanced instruction in not only ballroom but an array of other styles, as well as dance fitness classes from HIIT to yoga to strength training. "DWTS" fans will recognize such familiar faces as Peta Murgatroyd, Jenna Johnson, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater, along with Maks and Val themselves.

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@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

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Courtesy Oleson

American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.

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