The Forgotten Industry

Dance studios around Australia felt the sting of Covid-19 before their year had even started. 

Parents were calling in “We will be staying away until this dies down.” Parents who had family overseas were warning us, “it’s worse than they’re letting on.” 

As an industry that is forever ahead of the times, dance principals and dance teachers put their heads together and devised communication templates, cleaning strategies and covidsafe plans! Yes!! Dance schools across Australia had implanted Covidsafe plans before they were even a thing. But it was mid-March when despite our best efforts, anxiety in the community was at an all-time high. There was no government directive regarding dance schools but there was advise issued byThe Victorian Department of Health and Human Services to parents. “Consider whether your child/young person’s out-of-school activities are essential”  

This saw classes that originally had up to 20 students, dwindle down to 2-3 dancers as parents made the responsible decision to practice social distancing and stay home. 

My sisters and I, who have owned our dance school for 14 years, all agreed that it did not feel right to keep our doors open. We, like always, had a responsibility to our students and our wider community. We needed to lead by example, set the expectation and temporarily close our doors to do our part, in keeping our community safe. 

Days later, it was confirmed we’d made the right decision when it was announced that all non-essential businesses were to close. We still cried though. We cried for our students, predominantly children, who were about to have everything they’ve ever known and understood taken away from them, we cried for our colleagues in the dance industry and we cried for every small business owner because we were sharing in their pain. We were comforted, knowing that “we are all in this together”. We were reassured that this was temporary and while we knew things would be hard financially, we had confidence in our government who had talked up small business grants and payments. 

Well, fast forward to 6 months later. We are still here, feeling like this is very much the opposite of temporary AND with little to no financial help from the government. Each dance studio’s situation is different, but for us, we didn’t qualify for ANY grants and our inbox is a chain of rejection emails. This is because, like most dance schools, we don’t have any employees, we employ contractors. As a partnership of three people, we did qualify for job keeper but for only one of us. That’s right, only one of us gets to take home a wage. 

Recently a new grant was announced. A $3000 payment for sole traders with commercial property. While this is a step in the right direction, $3000 is laughable. $3000 barely covers the cost of one month’s rent. Our small business has lost 90percent of our revenue, so far this year and 92percent of our fellow studio owners have reported that they are worried their business won’t survive to see March 2021. $3000 is simply not enough for us to survive. 

As soon as the restrictions hit, the dance industry adapted and took to online platforms, offering dance classes to their students and the wider community. It was an effort to keep dancers active, connected to their community and friends and of course to generate some sort of income. With many parents having lost jobs or endured pay cuts, dance school’s around Victoria dropped their prices dramatically hoping to keep some families on board. It wasn’t just the cost of classes that deterred many, usually very keen dancers, away from online dancing. Many parents expressed that their children were experiencing fatigue, they were spending hours a day online for school and needed to step away from the screens. Many still felt disconnected, that it just “isn’t the same” and others were simply overwhelmed with technology. Our school had less than a quarter of its students enrol into online classes into term 3. 

Just as an added kick in the guts to dance teaching professionals, the Victorian Government, after providing no financial support to our industry, started offering FREE dance and other fitness classes online as a “commitment to help keep Victorians active and healthy.” Even though, our industry of professionals has been committed to keeping Victorians active and healthy in lockdown since day 1 of the restrictions. This initiative is completely tone-deaf, and many dance teachers were left in shock. Not only do we not have any support from our government, but they are now competing for our clients. With no financial assistance, we can only rely on our paying students and who would pay for a service that is being provided for free? We are sure, the Victorian Government wouldn’t stand out the front of a local café and start handing out coffee for free, so how is this ok? 

Back in January, when our country was absolutely rattled by the bushfires, dance studios around Australia stepped up. Classes, workshops, and performances were put together as fundraising events and it was the arts and dancing communities that are now being neglected, that were so eager to help. Our dance school alone raised close to $1000 for the Bushfire Appeal. Each year dance schools contribute to The Good Friday Appeal, Red Nose Day, Ronald McDonald House Charities and more. Every year our school runs a Mother’s Day drive, collecting and donating essentials to the St Kilda Mums organisation as well as collecting and donating warm winter clothing to the Big Group Hug. We are a body of people who continue to volunteer our time, resources, and energy to others in need and they are the kinds of people we are raising on our dance floors. Now we are the ones in need and the Victorian Government is turning a blind eye.

As they say, “the show must go on!” Our dance industry is determined to open our doors again because our students need the connection and the community that we provide. They need the activity, the chance for self-expression and they need the opportunity to continue developing their art. Our latest hurdle is getting on the map, the roadmap out of lockdown. 

Yesterday it was announced and then almost immediately retracted, that dance studios do in fact fall under the “creative studios” banner. This means dance schools across regional Victoria could open, with restrictions, immediately and dance schools in metro Melbourne were set to open October 26. But the premier reconsidered in just matter of hours and decided that no, dance schools, where creativity lives and breathes, are not considered a creative studio. What is a creative studio then? Apparently, it is a deathly quiet, empty dance school where just one, professional dancer can attend. This makes absolutely no sense. It is extremely rare that a professional dancer would be rehearsing on their own with majority of performances opportunities including a choreographer, director and other dancers at the very least. On top of this, gigs, performances and events aren’t even running under the current restrictions! So what is this lonely, professional dancer rehearsing for in their big empty space? 

Currently dance schools are considered “Physical Indoor Recreation Facilities.” Which pushes us further back on the roadmap. It means kids will be able to tackle each other on the footy field, they will be able to share playground equipment and push each other down the slide, they will be able to sit side by side at their school desks, all before they can dance, 1.5m apart without touching another student. When students return to their classrooms, they will also return to dance class within their school’s curriculum. Apparently, dance class is safe during school hours, but not after. 

Dance schools are run by professionally trained, experienced individuals whose priority, even before this pandemic, was to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their students. Dance studios are equipped to provide classes in a covidsafe environment with covidsafe plans having been prepared and been in place before it was a government directive to do so. Dance teachers have taught social distancing before it even had a title, teaching spacial and body awareness to dancers from their very first dance class in an environment that is structured, right from the minute you walk through the door. 

Our industry is on the brink of collapse with many dance studio owners terrified they are about to lose their life’s work. These are not passion projects or hobby jobs. These are businesses that work to provide incomes, put food on the table and contribute 300 million dollars a year to the Victorian economy. On top of that, they provide a safe space, make a difference in the lives of young students, and bring communities together. 

The dance industry is not asking for special treatment or exemptions. We are simply asking for the same respect and understanding that has been shown to other small businesses during this time. We need the government to acknowledge the significance of our sector and to step up and do their part to ensure we make it to the other side of this pandemic. We are constantly told, “we are all in the same boat” which might be true, but dance school owners are riding a very different, terrifying storm, on their own. 

NOW WHAT? Please sign the petition in support of your local dance schools: http://chng.it/sz4bmxDp4M

By Chloe Jobson – Co-Owner of Main St Funk Dance School 

chloe_jobson@hotmail.com

mainstfunk@gmail.com

www.mainstfunk.com

www.facebook.com/mainstfunk

www.instagram.com/mainstfunk

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