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

Help Save Our World.

We ALL know that this year has been anything but rainbows and butterflies. Small, and even medium and big, businesses are feeling the brunt of this global crisis.

We know that our small, suburban, family-run dance school, is just one tiny speck in our big giant planet that is currently crashing and burning. 

But the thing is, those four walls in Epping, those mirrors, that barre, the staircase and the mezzanine that we fought so hard for, the pictures your kids drew for us that are stuck up on the wall and THEM, their smiley faces, their laughs, their tears….those things are our world. Our whole world.

This is not just business for us. This is where our own kids dance. Where 14-year-old Chloe discovered a passion for teaching and eventually became “co-principal” alongside Kristie and Carla. This is where we watch our students work hard and turn into assistant teachers and then teachers themselves. This is where Nakarin felt at home. And where we celebrated his Australian citizenship. We’ve helped write resumes and provided reference letters. We’ve given advice and taken it too. We’ve celebrated all of your success and we’ve felt all of your loss. We’ve announced babies and engagements here and we’ve cried tears of joy and tears of angst too. We’ve cheered for every milestone and cheered for every milestone that was just missed. This is where we show up after the longest and hardest days and let it all go. This is where we feed our children, where we chuck our dinner in the microwave and get on with it, where we do homework, where our family shows up unannounced, where our family shows up when we need them. It’s where we have quiet cups of teas and loud, passionate “discussions ” too. Where we catch up with friends because our work and social life are all intertwined. This dance school is so much more than a small business. For one thing, it is HUGE in purpose and impact. It’s our whole world. And we hope,  at least a big part of yours or your child’s world. 

In term 1 2020, we opened our doors to our anticipated biggest year ever. MSF was thriving. Classes were full, the parent lounge wall to wall with happy, chatty, parents and kids. We felt like a full-time call centre because our phone was constantly buzzing and if we weren’t answering calls, we were replying to emails. 

Numbers were never important to us but, we did celebrate when we reached an incredible 300. 300 enthusiastic boys and girls of all ages were filling our world with even more dance and even more purpose. 

Then covid hit and in that last week, before the restrictions were announced, the studio felt eerily quiet. Not the calm before the storm but the quiet after. 

In term 2, like many dance schools and with little choice, we moved online. 85 students joined us on zoom to trial our classes and 62 enrolled…

The prospect of term 3 returning to face-to-face classes was exciting! We had held out hope that our dance family would come back to us and we were right. We had 200 kids ready to return to dance and a huge number who were waiting in the wings, riding out the wave. Then lockdown 2.0 came crashing in like a tsunami.

It’s now time for us to resume online classes and so far we have 30…30, important, special, valued individuals who will join us for class online. Just 10percent of our term 1 family.  This is the smallest student base we have ever had. Even smaller than our first year back in 2007.  

Dance family, we need you now more than ever.

The simplest way to support our dance school is to enrol into our online classes if you can afford it. This way, you are also supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of your child and their dance progression. Not only will you be making a small financial contribution to our school but you will be helping our community to stay connected, to stay as one.

However;

We know that the structure of online learning does not suit everyone. If it’s not for your child or they are not interested, we understand. We don’t want to pressure them into doing something they don’t want to do.

We know that an overwhelming majority of our families are experiencing some form of income loss or employment loss. We don’t want you to spend money on dance classes if you can not afford to. 

What we don’t know is how far will we get, without the continued support from YOU our big, extended dance family.

So, if you won’t be continuing your dancing online, there are other ways you can show your support and help us see through this crisis to the other side.

  • Please follow and keep engaged with our Facebook and Instagram pages.
  • Please share our post about online classes (or any of our social media posts) on your Facebook and Instagram pages
  • Tag people who you think might be interested in online dancing
  • Tag people who might be interested in dancing at the studio when this is all over
  • Leave a review on our Google or Facebook page 
  • Upload a photo of you/your kids at an MSF event 

These gestures might seem small but they will make a huge difference to us. We are so grateful to every single MSF student and parent. Whether you’ve danced all the way through iso or we haven’t seen you since term 1. Even if you’ve just been keeping up to date with our emails, we are thankful. Hey, if you’ve come this far on the longest social media post ever, that says a lot!! 

We said in a recent email, this year has been a rollercoaster. And it has, but one that has broken down right before the free fall and left us hanging. Stomach-churning, heart in our throat, we are just hanging out here looking out over the world. OUR world and that’s you, our dance fam. 🧡

With lots of love, we hope to see you on the dance floor soon.

The MSF Sisters,

Kristie, Carla and Chloe. xx

Dancing with Summer

Attention all little MSF kids with itchy feet and ants in their pants…

Our gorgeous and clever assistant teacher Summer (who is only 11 years old!!!) has created an online dance tutorial just for you!
This class is suitable for all Petite, Mini, and Tiny dancers.

We recommend setting it up on the tv or a large PC screen, making sure your dancer has lots of space and we encourage mums, dads, and siblings, to join in too.

We would love to show Summer some photos or videos of the MSF kids taking her class so please send them through OR why not write Summer a thank-you letter or draw her a picture.

We are so very lucky to have such clever, innovative and thoughtful students like Summer, a dance teacher in the making!

P.S Please note the youtube links are set to “private” so you will not be able to search for these videos on Youtube. Make sure you save the links in case your little dancer wants to dance with Summer again and again.

Have fun everyone! xx

 

EPISODE 1 – BALLET PART 1: https://youtu.be/XG3BxugIDSo
EPISODE 2 – BALLET PART 2: https://youtu.be/Ox1kZg6iz-E
EPISODE 3 – HIP HOP PART 1: https://youtu.be/7QPL7p4d3k4
EPISODE 4 – HIP HOP PART 2: https://youtu.be/G1Dj1J2rRsc