Dancing Through COVID

May 12, 2021 | Regional News

Torrington, Wyo. (Story by Denise Heilbrun-Ellis) May 12, 2021 –A dark studio with no music playing, no dancers watching their technique in the mirrors, no instructors shouting counts of eight over the music, no laughter and visiting of children as classes changed every hour – that was what Covid-19 brought to 28th Avenue Dance Studio March 2020.

A busy studio of 250-plus students was brought to silence in Torrington. The studio closed its’ doors March 13, 2020, due to Covid-19.

At the beginning of March 2020, 28th Avenue Dance Studio was still in the process of attending competitions with solos, duets and classes. All costumes had arrived, shoes were all in and students were prepping for their annual recital the first weekend of May.

Then came the mandatory closures. Studio director/instructor Stephanie Kath was devastated. Her love of teaching dance in this studio for 23 years was brought to an abrupt halt. But she vowed this pandemic was not going to stop her or her dancers from doing what they love.

Kath and her daughter, asst. director Taylor, cleaned the studio from top to bottom, sterilizing everything. During the summer Stephanie called the public health officer in a bid to get her studio open.

“We met with Health Officer Heather Saul and did whatever we needed to do in order to open and offer classes,” Kath said. “Dance classes are something that kids and adults need, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.”

 “She seemed pretty positive about opening as long as we used common sense and followed all the guidelines,” Kath added.

The studio would have to use six-foot distancing, students would not have to wear masks, and hand sanitizer stations would be implemented. Parents were to drop their child off outside, or distance themselves in the lobby.  

Come Sept. 14, the studio finally opened and was ready for students.

“We were not very optimistic about our numbers at the beginning of the season but are so thankful that our parents and dance families trusted in us and supported us,” Stephanie said. “We are happy to have kept our doors open and continue to provide dance education to our community. It has not been easy, but with the support and kindness of our community, we have persevered.”

 “The hardest thing for kids to get used to, especially the younger kids, was the lack of physical connection,” Kath and her daughter, Taylor said. “We used to hold hands and make a circle to begin class and end class, we weren’t able to do that this year. It was also difficult for them to remain in one place, as we had to keep them six feet apart and were not able to do a lot of “across the floor” exercises.”

“We were unable to use many of our usual activities, especially with the little dancers, such as: follow the leader (couldn’t keep them socially distanced), mirroring one another, using props at first, using the parachute, using obstacle courses, partnering, etc.,” Stephanie added.

Trying to choreograph with distancing and not touching was quite a new experience.

“Choreography was challenging as we were in lines, six-feet apart without a lot of opportunity to change formations,” Stephanie said. “The limited class size also made it difficult to choreograph, as we couldn’t group students as normal. Physical correction to students was used very minimally this year, that sometimes poses a problem for students who respond better to touch, and adjustment opposed to auditory or visual correction.”

Dance Instructors Natalie Davila and Victoria Stromski were on board with getting things going as they followed the lead of the Kath duo.

As the year progressed the studio didn’t really know if they were going to be able to hold their recital.

“We planned on an outdoor recital until we inquired about using the high school auditorium,” Stephanie added. “We were extremely grateful to learn that we had a venue and would be able to have the dancers perform this year. We definitely didn’t want to go another season without a show, we were excited to be able to have that celebration and closure for the year.”

The studio did hold their annual recital on May 1 and 2 at Torrington High School. The 200 dancers would be able to show what they learned this past year. Diversified Services, Inc. was able to begin dancing at the studio in March again. The group practiced for two months and loved performing for the packed auditorium.

Dance parent Shelby Larkin who drives three days a week to Torrington from LaGrange said, “To be honest the year of covid never crossed our minds when we decided to register for classes again this year at 28th Avenue Dance Studio. We moved here in 2018 and our number one priority after finding a church to attend was to find Tessa a great dance studio. We didn’t know anyone to ask around about studios but went on a prayer to 28th Ave. and have been blessed ever since. So, when we found out the studio was going to go ahead with the season we jumped on enrollment! Tessa and I love the education, encouragement, and support she receives with all the teachers! Tessa loves dancing and her love has only grown since our arrival here, she looks forward to every opportunity to attend, if she could go to every single class offered, she would! 28th Av.e is her second home and we have felt the love from the moment we walked into the studio.”

The plan for the new season is to get back to “as normal as possible.” The studio is opening earlier than usual with an Aug. 4 opening date. New 2021-2022 class schedule is already up for parents/adults to register.

“Allow more students in classes, use our regular engaging activities, create interesting choreography, use physical correction and connection, connect with our parents (many didn’t come into our building last season), allow students to be more connected – it’s a connection theme, that is what we missed the most!” exclaimed Stephanie.

Another parent who drives many miles each week to enable her child to attend classes is Faith Askin.

“My family and I live north of Jay Em, Wyo., where my husband and I operate a ranching business,” she said. “I grew up being involved in extracurricular activities as a young child and knew I wanted the same for my children. My three-year-old daughter Alpharetta had started dancing to music at home, so I googled dance classes near us, being that we live in a very rural area. 28th Avenue Dance studio showed up as one of my first options! I browsed their website to see what they offered and quickly submitted an email to find out how I could get my child registered for a class! I am a mom of two going on three and my husband and I feel strong about our kids having the opportunity to get involved and learn from others as well as meet new people in life. Our first class, Alpharetta was very hesitant but throughout the year she has grown immensely. Every week she asks when she gets to go to dance. Alpharetta enjoys all the little ones that attend class with her as well as allowing herself to dance with all the props and music.”

“She has really come out of her shell,” added Askin. “I love the atmosphere of this dance studio. Stephanie has never pushed Alpharetta out of her comfort zone, in fact, many of the first parts of class I was able to attend to help her not be afraid. I love the music, the teaching elements, like learning eight beats, counting, moving with the beat of the music and the overall ability to teach children to follow directions and still have fun! I feel that 28th Avenue Dance Studio has really allowed my child to express herself with dance and I love knowing that she is safe and in good hands while they participate in the classes. I feel like the teachers really do well at encouraging each child and helping them feel comfortable and competent! I also really enjoy how they are very attentive to each child as they make progress throughout the class. We hope to attend for as long as Alpharetta would like to.”