Three months into lockdown. Over 40,000 people lost to this disease in the UK. Family get togethers are still limited to social distanced walks and odd garden parties. Those being shielded still muddling through on their own. This has been an awful, difficult time for everyone.
For me, dancing is my lifelong passion, my livelihood and my community. So I have been trying to get my head around how we will come out the other side.
Dance Schools through Covid-19
I should point out that dance teachers tend to use artistic license when it comes to the truth. They can’t help it. I put it down to our theatrical training. If a dance teacher built the titanic, they would say it was designed to sink and was doing so tremendously well. This is just the way they are. However, you know these are challenging times because even dance teachers are admitting that these are tough times.
Income has disappeared overnight for dance teachers. This is true for me as well. We have done our best to create a brand new online timetable for our pupils and we are grateful beyond words for everyone (die-hard pupils and new pupils) who have joined in and supported us. We have seen extraordinary acts of kindness. We’ve had pupils anonymously covering course fees for those that needed it. We’ve had pupils donating to their teachers. Every Sunday, our competition team log in for class, even though all the national finals have been cancelled this year. It’s been humbling to see.
However, let’s face facts. Virtual is not the same as dancing together and we get that. Our income stream is minuscule compared to normal. For limited companies, some have had to make the gut-wrenching decision to furlough staff, meaning they can’t even offer anything online.
So what have we, as dance schools, needed through this time? On top of the amazing support of our pupils.
Dance Associations through Covid-19 – Early On
Dance Associations are members clubs of the dance world, they are meant be in contact with the Sports & Recreation Alliance, which are in contact with the goverment. As teacher, we hold qualifications with these organisations. They provide examinations services and organise competitions.
During the first few weeks of the lockdown, the silence from the associations was deafening. Dance teachers themselves set up their own ‘survival’ group on Facebook. That’s how desperate we were for guidance! In those early weeks, there was little guidance on how to access government help. Instead, we watched as many associations cancelled every single event. 50% of my business is training people for competitions. In those early weeks, the only competition left standing was one in April 2021. Throughout my coaching career, I can’t think of another time like this one.
Dance associations have been thrown into this just like we have. I know that. I think it is testament to just how unprecedented these times are that no-one really knew what to do. It felt like staring into an empty chasm, with no idea how to move forward.
Into that chasm, unfortunately there has been some actively unhelpful noise. Social media comments from employees of these associations, that “they would rather see lockdown and quarantine in place for the whole summer than lose a single person to this horrible disease”. Of course, every single death is a tragedy. We all wish that this had never happened at all. But that is a lot easier to say when you are still on 100% of your pay, while your customers have lost their incomes completely. And we have to, as a society, find a way to balance all the other important things in our lives against this risk. Children’s education. Family connections. Mental wellbeing. And yes, our livelihoods.
Dance Associations through Covid-19 – Now
As we have gone through lockdown, thankfully, this picture has changed and we have started to see the leadership that we desperately needed. There are a couple of examples I would like to share and I would like to publicly thank the associations for these contributions to keeping our industry alive:
- The NATD will be waiving all 2021 membership fees, taking away one additional cost for dance teachers like me
- All associations are starting to think about how medal tests can work in this new normal, whether that’s online or finding a way for ‘partner’ dances like Ballroom & Latin to be graded as solo dances so people don’t need a partner
- The IDTA have been running live Q&A sessions which have given us as dance teachers an opportunity to come together and think through the new daily challenges together
- The IDTA are running the first ever online competition – the Global Lockdown Festival. We are super excited about this and love the fact that it has given our hardworking competitors something to aim towards
This is exactly what we needed to see. I have also contacted my local NATD area and am hopeful that they will release more details about competitions this year. However, this remains a scary time for dance teachers. If you are a dance teacher, of any association, my phone number is always available if you need a chat.
Dancing, Covid-19 and the Government
There is plenty to criticise in the government’s handling of the entire pandemic but I will leave it to much better political commentators than I to cover that topic. I will speak to the impact on my own dance school though.
That week before lockdown was incredible painful. The indecision from the government was crippling. Not telling us to shut but telling our customers to avoid any unnecessary social activity. When the call to close did come, the real panic set in. What would we do without the income from the dance school? Our dread only went away when the support for the self-employed was announced. This measure has been a lifeline for us and other dance teachers I know. Whatever else, I have to thank the government for that.
At the time of writing, we are hopeful that we may be able to start the process of re-opening the school in July. Frustratingly though, despite the dance associations representing us and putting our case to government, we still do not have clarity on where dance schools sit in the roadmap e.g. can we assume (as we have been) that we will be in the same band as gyms / cafes / etc.?
If you love dancing and want to make sure that the government thinks about your favourite pastime, the British Dance Council have prepared a pre-written template for you to write to your MP. The danger to the UK dance industry is real and we need to do all we can to keep it safe. In the meantime, we will keep busy working on our blueprint for re-opening and putting all our energy into keeping you safe when you come back to dancing.