Ballet training in Nevada County continues through COVID-19
Dance classes have looked different lately for Nevada County ballet students after COVID-19 required a total stop and then restructuring of class logistics, but training has continued, both virtually and in person.
“We’re ready to go with a spring show if we can do that,” said Yelena Holt, founder of Holt Ballet Conservatory.
According to Holt, holding classes through Zoom was the first outlet the conservatory took after a March closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dance studios, categorized as fitness centers under California COVID-19 guidelines, were permitted to reopen with restrictions in June, and the conservatory did so in July.
Holt marked 6-foot distances on the floor, set up portable 8-foot long barres, which are disinfected between each use, and in-person classes held at St. Joseph’s Cultural Center in Grass Valley resumed.
“The kids are really happy to be back in the studio,” said Holt, adding, however, that conservatory students and staff lament that a winter Nutcracker performance does not seem feasible at this point.
“I was worried that, without that motivation, the students would (be) lackluster,” she said. “But it hasn’t proven to be true. They seem to be very enthusiastic, so I have to give credit to my teachers that they’re making classes meaningful and fun, and still sticking to good classical training.”
The conservatory’s enrollment has decreased since March, from around 80 to 55 students. Holt said this is partially due to a drop in new enrollment, shrinking the size of introductory level classes while intermediate and advanced classes remain fairly full, as well as the temporary suspension of pre-ballet instruction. This level of instruction generally serves children ages 3 to 5, and conservatory staff were concerned this age level would have difficulties remaining appropriately distanced and keeping their masks on, according to Holt.
Outside of this youngest age group, mask usage not presented any major issues for Holt and other instructors, who have experimented to find a level of exertion that works best for students.
“We changed teaching so we don’t do as many high-aerobic steps as we normally would,” said Holt, adding that students may also momentarily sit out or adjust their activity as needed.
According to Holt, mask usage has played an important role in helping instructors feel comfortable teaching a group.
Krista Pagan, director of Nevada City Ballet Academy, echoed the sentiment that teaching and learning ballet while wearing a mask has presented challenges, but that these have been manageable.
For Pagan, the main mask-related difficulty has been in teaching some of her youngest students, who had previously relied heavily on verbal and facial cues for instruction and now struggle at times to understand these through a mask.
In order to allow for distancing in the studio space, classes which had previously held 18 students now hold around 10, according to Pagan.
Although in-person classes resumed in June at Nevada City Ballet Academy, virtual classes held on Zoom have continued as well to accommodate families who prefer not to have their child return to in-person instruction.
Pagan said these classes have presented their own set of challenges, primarily stemming from varied levels of internet connection among students and resulting issues with synchronicity of music and movement; she said it is also common in ballet for instructors to offer hands-on adjustment of a student’s position or alignment, an aspect made impossible by virtual dance classes.
“It is better than nothing, but it is a challenge just because there’s usually a delay with the sound,” said Pagan. “But it is nice to still be able to have some contact with them, even if it’s virtual.”
Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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