It’s been tutu long for the ballet students in Ruth Shine’s School of Dance

Lisa Mullaly

In the initial phases of Covid-19 lock-down dance school, Ruth Shine’s School of Dance, had to abruptly close its doors. Forcing many young dancers to hang up their ballet shoes and wait for the situation to unfold. For Ruth and her dancers, it was not only a social group that was taken away but their passion and outlet for creativity.

Ever since the various lock-downs first came into effect back in March, Ruth Shine, the founder of the dance school, and her Dance school have been faced with new challenges and obstacles as a result of the current pandemic.

In order to remain open throughout this unpredictable time, Shine has had to constantly adapt to the ever-changing Government guidelines. 

In preparation for reopening after a long-break, Shine had arranged her studio into single space pods all two meters apart, using very much on brand ballet pump stickers. As a result of these restrictions Ruth has had to reduce her class sizes to accommodate social distancing.

Shine noted that teaching in a socially distanced studio has been challenging for her as a teacher. Her lessons have required a lot more preparation than before.

It’s no longer just planning out the dances or exercise but where each student will go, how far they can go and making sure they all have space. She also choreographs how the students enter the studio and where they put their things to avoid overcrowding. 

“We’re fairly strict anyway in ballet but we have had to be even stricter,” said Shine.

She explained that a lot more time has to be put into verbally breaking down corrections during class. 

“You need to talk through a correction for a good five minutes, that literally touching the back of someone’s leg would fix straightaway.”

Dance as a kinaesthetic activity can be difficult to learn through explanation alone. A student needs to feel the correct position of their muscles, the sensation of the movement. Physically placing a student into that position is a lot faster and easier, for both the student and the teacher.

While Shine has been unable to have access to the studio she has had to be creative in order to keep her dancers moving.

Shine organised several outdoor lessons, weather permitting. One of the local primary schools provided the outdoor space which became a safe haven for Shine and her dancers during this isolating time. The spacious area meant that she was able to continue to interact and engage with her dancers. 

Like many others, Shine migrated her dance school over to zoom. She continued to run her classes for various ages but noticed that there was a massive drop in attendance from the younger dancers. Children up to age six haven’t been able to adapt to the online format as well as the older students. 

“They may as well be watching a television programme,” she commented.

Shine has had to adapt her lessons to the online studio. Although she is able to teach from her dance studio, the students are still in their own homes and the space they have is restricted.

The floor that are dancing on is also an issue. While the studio has laminate flooring suitable for turns and leaps, the students may have hardwood which could be dangerous while dancing. 

Even though doing ‘grande pliés’ with a chair as a ballet barre in your sitting room isn’t the ideal situation Ruth says that she is seeing improvements in her dancers nonetheless. Since the students are in their own homes, they don’t have others to talk to and are more focused during the lesson. 

Zoom fatigue has become a daily struggle in many people’s lives and it’s no different Shine’s case. She says that she can see her students are tired and drained. So much so that she decided to shorten her lessons for the some of the age groups saying that she feels an hour on zoom is too long for them to focus. 

This new technology tiredness not only effects the students but the teachers too. There are three teachers in the dance school, they share the days between them. Each teacher is online teaching for three to five hours a day.

The teachers are doing their best to keep each lesson interactive and engaging for the students involved but it’s exhausting. The usual communal energy of the studio cannot be felt through a computer screen. 

“It’s like you’re on stage, with nobody clapping at the end,” says Shine.

Zoom classes have taken a toll on the teachers and if the decision had not been made to reopen the school, they would have been closed completely for at least a month over Christmas. 

Thankfully with the Covid-19 restrictions moving to Level Three on 1st of December, Ruth Shine’s School of Dance will be able to re-open its doors to its students. Keeping with government regulations Shine will have to further restrict the movement in her classes.

Shine and the other teachers will be focusing on more floor based stationary training. Each student will have to bring their own yoga mat and students from Grade 4 and up will be required to wear masks during class. 

Shine plans to resume face-to-face classes as soon as possible.  For her student’s this news couldn’t have come sooner. It is time for them to put away their computers and iron out their tutus. 

Lisa Mullaly

Image credit: Lisa Mullaly