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“The biggest challenge was dance,” Academy of Music & Dance owner Leslie Kowalski said, as the academy switched over to virtual classes during the pandemic for dance, music and Kindermusik students.
“[It’s about] how to rethink dance,” Kowalski said. “I promised the parents and the kids that we would still put those costumes on and have a recital as soon as our governor allowed us to get back together. Once we were given the go-ahead that kid camps could start up with one teacher and five students, we surveyed the parents, found out who wanted to have their six weeks of makeup classes in the studio with four others and who wanted to continue online. With the results at basically half and half, we proceeded.”
Kowalski purchased “Mind Your Spacing” decals, a no-contact thermometer device and hospital-grade disinfectant products, she said. She and her staff donned masks and set up a Zoom camera to be fully in-person and online ready.
Parents who usually sat on the other side of a glass wall and observed children at rehearsal, “would now drop off their masked dancers at one door and pick them up at another door, keeping traffic in one direction,” Kowalski said.
The staff also began a half-hour of cleaning/disinfecting regimen between classes, she said, adding that no props or any items were shared, and the ballet barre was removed from the studio.
The dance recital that had been scheduled for the Las Cruces Public Schools Performing Arts Center at Oñate High School, was “re-imagined,” Kowalski said, and held July 10-11 at the academy studio, 1809 El Paseo Road.
“Instead of one two-hour recital, we held eight one-hour ‘units,’” she said, with four-five dancers and a teacher on one side of the glass wall and four to five “pods” of four family members wearing masks on the other side.
Beginning at the top of the hour, each dancer had her individual photo taken by professional photographer Jack Diven, Kowalski said, then performed with her peers, each in their own “box.” Dancers were then individually dismissed to have a photo taken with their teacher and receive flowers from parents. At the half-hour mark, “the entire place was disinfected to prepare for the next recital group,” she said. “Wash, rinse and repeat.”
Dancers didn’t have to wear masks during the recitals, Kowalski said, because the public health order signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that mandated mask-wearing even when exercising didn’t take effect until July 13.
When they return to the studio Aug. 3, “dancers will be wearing masks at all times,” she said. Each dancer will have her own prop kit, water bottle, hand sanitizer and ballet barre wrap, Kowalski said, as the barre returns to the studio.
For the upcoming 2020-21 year that begins this month, five dance classes filled up in a manner of two hours on registration day, she said.
“That sounds exciting, but a full class is five dancers,” Kowalski said. Before COVID-19, five dancers had been the number used to declare a class open. “That was our minimum for breaking even,” she said. “So, breaking even is what we hope to do this year to keep the business going.”
Kowalski said she and her staff have marked off the studio into six-foot squares to be visually clear for students to practice social distancing.
The academy opened its doors as Musical Beginnings in 1993 with Kowalski conducting Kindermusik classes. In 2008, the company moved and added private lessons in piano, guitar, voice, violin and all band instruments. In 2011, it added “a beautiful floating dance floor,” she said, and the name changed to Academy of Music & Dance.
The academy has five dance instructors offering ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop and pom, along with adult tap. Kowalski is preparing to teach Kindermusik on Zoom, she said, and using the same six-foot box system, hopes to soon bring the “musical toddlers and babies” back into the studio with their parents.
Private lessons continue to be in person with mandatory facemasks unless the student prefers Zoom, Kowalski said. The academy also offers Piano Teams, a 45-minute group class for young children not quite ready for private lessons.
Dance and Kindermusik classes and private music lessons began Aug. 3 and continue through mid-August, she said. Any class can be taken live in the studio (the number of participants is five or six maximum) or on Zoom. Classes run Monday-Saturday.