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

0433220973

Dance Family

What does it mean when we call you our “Dance Family”?

Over the years, or weeks if you are brand new, you might have heard us refer to Main St Funk as our “Dance Family”. This might mean a lot to you, to know that you are so valued in our community that we consider you, family, or, maybe you’ve just signed up and the phrase doesn’t hold much meaning yet. But why are we a “dance family”?

Back in 2007, when MSF was first opened by sisters Kristie and Carla, we were a small school with about 50 kids. Classes were held in one big room, separated by just a partition. Kristie would teach on one side and Carla on the other. Little sister Chloe was a student and an assistant teacher. Everything we did, we did together.

Routines were choreographed and practiced in the lounge room, weekends were spent shopping for costumes, late nights were spent editing music and staff meetings and brainstorming happened around the dinner table. Our family members jumped on board to volunteer their time and get involved with every new project we started; Photos and DVDs (which we used to shoot and edit ourselves, what!?), costume sewing and performance days. Everything was a family affair and it still is! Our mum, dad, sister Bianca, our partners, and our children, all live and breathe Main St Funk, almost as much as we do.

It has always been about teamwork. It didn’t matter who taught what class, we were always stepping in to help each other with new ideas and advice. Like sisters do, sometimes we disagreed or told it like it was but we knew that we always had each other’s back and best interest of the MSF kids at heart. That kind of love carried over to our “studio” and classes.

We didn’t hide behind a professional face. We were always genuinely and proudly ourselves, three sisters working together. We treated our students with the same respect, kindness, and honesty that we gave each other. Sometimes that meant being a should to cry on, sometimes that meant giving out some tough love.

The feedback that we started to receive was that MSF students felt so included and welcomed, that we had created such a safe space and that we were “different” from the other activities that the kids participated in each week.

But why were we different??

It was only years later that we could put our finger on what it was. It was because we are family. Our students and the entire school, are an extension of us. You are our “dance family”.

So much is different now, 14 years later and you might have noticed our family members now far exceed that right-knit little group of 50 we once were. But please know, our sentiment is still the same. We are still that shoulder to cry on, that little dose of tough love when you need it, voices of reason if you ask for it and we are always here to listen. We will continue to be genuine, honest and grounded. We have learned a lot over the years, but we are still those same three sisters.

Whether you are an OG member or you just signed up today, we hope you know that you are so valued, that we welcome your conversation, we care about your wellbeing and even though we are welcoming new family members every day so far these holidays, you are more than just a number to us.

So when you hear or read us referring to MSF as our dance family, please know that we don’t take that phrase lightly.

It is not a marketing strategy, it is not a “slogan” and it’s not something that dance schools say, just because!

It is the culture of our school, the backbone that has driven us this far and will continue to do so, it is a feeling amongst our students that grew organically over time and with a bit of TLC and a lot of hard work, it grows stronger and more prominent every year.

Past and present students, as we say goodbye to another year, we thank you for being apart of our journey and hope to see you in 2020.

With love to you, our dancing family, forever and always!