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After-school programs have moved classes to online as the coronavirus keeps people at home

(Screenshot by Norma Gonzalez | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gracie, 12, follows along during a recent West Point Ballet Academy class while in her family's basement. All classes have been moved to Zoom, a video conferencing service, for the foreseeable future.

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One by one, a new, smiling face pops up on the Zoom group video chat and the group of pre-teens and teenagers catch up for a few minutes before their teacher logs on.

Mercedes, a 12-year-old, brings her pair of ballet slippers into view on the screen and shows the growing hole forming where her pinky toes go. Gracie asks her classmate if she’s dancing on concrete because she’s had the same issue with her own slippers.

The pair, both part of the West Point Ballet, are in their respective families’ basements, waiting for Friday’s 3:30 p.m. Ballet Academy Magenta Level class to start. In total, five students check in from the comfort of their own homes for class with owner and instructor Juliana Martin.

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc and causing businesses to close down, especially since Salt Lake County issued new stay-at-home orders, some owners have had to get creative to keep business going. Dance studios, county camps, classes and clinics, theater classes and others have moved their courses to online so kids can continue to follow along from home.

Martin was one of the first to move classes online, making the change nearly three weeks ago.

“Obviously, I’d been following it really carefully and seeing how it was progressing around the world and everything,” Martin said. “I just felt that it was coming.”

But unlike some other businesses that record their classes and/or instructions and then share the video with their students to follow along, West Point Ballet provides Zoom classes. So, students are part of interactive classes and get immediate feedback from any of their instructors.

“We’re trying to be very interactive,” Martin said. “We’ve chosen not to just record classes and have kids follow along like a YouTube thing. We want it to still be as if they were in the room with us.”

As of right now, each instructor is still on payroll and goes into the empty studio on their own to broadcast from there. West Point Ballet offers about 25 classes per week.

“I am still keeping the schedule the same as it was before,” Martin said. “I had hoped that it would only be a few weeks. In my heart, I had a feeling it was going to be longer. So, when that news came out [last] week that schools are going to be closed until May 1, it’s just solidified that we’ll continue doing this. … Unfortunately, not all of our students are choosing to continue because their parents are losing their jobs and things like that. So, I’m trying to work with people to keep them in classes so I don’t have to cancel.”

Silvia Cotten, a Millcreek resident, has two toddler daughters who are involved in a few programs, including dance, tumbling and swim.

Cotten grew up dancing and even danced professionally, so she wanted to share the same passion with her daughters. But they, too, have resorted to doing what they can at home.

Obviously, without the needed facilities or equipment, the swim and tumbling lessons have been canceled, but they have been able to continue some dance sessions. The youngest is signed up with a dance program that’s part of the Utah County recreational program and takes place at the Performing Dance Center. The 5-year-old is signed up with the Winner School in Holladay.

The instructors have recorded videos of different dance combinations and choreography for their upcoming recital (which has yet to be canceled) and post them to YouTube.

The Winner School works on a month-to-month tuition basis, so Cotten had already paid for the month of March before they ended up completing nearly the last two weeks through online courses. The county program, however, was paid for the entire term — January through April.

“I’m not asking for my money back because I understand the hardship it is for a lot of these programs, but I think for people who, it’s a stretch for them to put their kids into programs, if their kids aren’t going it’s kind of rough,” Cotten said. “But as far as tuition for month to month [programs], it’s just completely stopped. For April, we’re just not going to go.”

Having to deal with not only the coronavirus, but also the March 18 earthquake and the recent spring snowfall have made it harder for the Cotten family to head outside, so having something for the kids to let them get some energy out has been helpful. And has brought some peace of mind and sanity to the mother of two.

However, it still hasn’t been easy by any means.

“It’s definitely hard,” Cotten said. “I’m not very strict about ‘OK, lets get our dance clothes and go to the basement and dance around.’ It’s kind of more organic for us. It’s harder for her to take it seriously, I guess. It’s just me telling her to turn on [the video] and it’s harder. … We’re scheduling on our own and that’s been a challenge to kind of get it going and be consistent with that.”

Lyna Tévenaz-Jones, of Salt Lake City, is also a mother of two, albeit her daughters are a bit older. The author’s daughters are in 12th and sixth grade at Skyline High School and Rosecrest Elementary, respectively.

So far the oldest has been more realistic with the current situation, but the younger one is struggling to fully understand the “full spectrum of the pandemic,” Tévenaz-Jones said.

Two months ago, the sixth grader started taking Utah Children’s Theatre classes at Parker Theatre. A week ago, the theater called Tévenaz-Jones to ask if she’d still be interested in having her daughter continue classes if they would be moved online. She had no issue with it because she believes it’s beneficial for her daughter and other kids.

“I think it’s important for them to have structure, and even for their mental well-being,” Tévenaz-Jones said. “I think it’s important to preserve a sense of normalcy and still learn and grow in spite of what’s going on out there.”

As with any business or class that’s had to go online, there’s been a learning curve. For the group of ballet dancers who were going through class in their own homes, some had to get creative.

The workouts require a ballet barre — which most students don’t have. So, while some were able to make arrangements to get a personal barre, others had to improvise.

Chloe’s dad built his 13-year-old one out of pipes, Mercedes fashioned an upside down clothes rack to get the job done and 17-year-old Rachel just used the metal bed frame in her room. Each one followed along as best they could (11-year-old Olivia kept having issues with her internet connection and would have to reconnect throughout rehearsal) and would hold their position when prompted to so Martin could get close to the laptop and inspect each one.

Even through a pixelated video connection, Martin could spot improvements and advised her students when to lift their ribs or get better placement through their legs.

For the most part, the students said the online classes have been going well, except they all seem to be struggling with any choreography because they have a hard time trying to visualize their spacing.

But through it all, everyone’s been supportive and understanding.

“At this point, any kind of support any small businesses can get is great, but I think it’s just more interesting than anything because I never thought, ever, that this is how we would be doing classes,” Martin said. “When you think of contingency plans, this was never something that I ever considered.”

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