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Columbia Dance Center teacher provides classes via YouTube

In her classroom at the Columbia Dance Center, Carol Arroyo and her daughter Ava performed for an audience of none.

A Bluetooth speaker, queued up with ballet standards, echoed in the empty building as the two dancers ran through a basic routine of arabesques and plies for a beginner adult ballet class.

“I just want you guys to be able to move your bodies,” Arroyo told the computer at the front of her room. “I know things are kind of weird and wild.”

Weird and wild indeed. Widespread closures resulting from the spread of the novel coronavirus have prompted the Columbia Dance Center to close its doors until after April 24.

In the meantime, instructors have moved their classes online, offering a series of password-protected videos featuring movement games, routines and rehearsals.

“If you aren’t practicing your craft every day, you lose it,” Arroyo said. “If we can provide happiness and joy to students and their families, it helps.”

Arroyo and the studio’s artistic director, Becky Moore, have posted a handful of videos since Saturday, worrying that the 170 students enrolled in the school wouldn’t have access to the workouts they need to keep their skills sharp.

They fired off a note to parents with a link to the private YouTube page, and waited.

Soon, parents leapt on the opportunity. They started sending pictures of their students practicing in their homes, using kitchen counters and couches as makeshift barres.

“Our students come to dance because it’s their passion and their stress relief,” Moore said. “Especially those older kids. They need us now more than ever.”

Amanda Durette’s 6-year-old daughter, Amelia, is in Arroyo’s creative dance class.

Amelia, a kindergartner who attends Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, recently spent some happy minutes running around their living room while “Miss Carol,” as the students call her, buzzed on the television screen like a bumblebee.

“It gave me a few quiet minutes, to be honest,” Durette said. “It really was engaging, the way Miss Carol took over. It was like a virtual teacher.”

The studio’s older students have even created their own version of the virtual lessons. Ainsley de Guzman, a 16-year-old who attends Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, started a website, (That’s Columbia Dance Center, by the way, not Centers for Disease Control. It’s a timely if unfortunate coincidence.)

The older students are posting daily workouts, links to dance music and, just for fun, smoothie recipes. It’s a way to stay connected while distracting from the stress of the closures.

“During this time where we’re all freaking out about the virus, it’s hard not having that outlet of expressing ourselves or forgetting about what’s going on,” Ainsley said. “I think we’re all trying to stay sane, stay flexible and stay fit.”

There’s something nonetheless eerie about watching the two dancers in an otherwise silent building, walking invisible watchers through their instructions. Arroyo kept a firm smile planted on her face through the routine, engaging and laughing as though it was any other Wednesday in the studio with her class.

“Keep dancing, keep smiling, keep having fun with your family,” Arroyo told the camera before completing a video for her class of 3- to 7-year-olds.

In some ways, it’s easier not to be managing a room full of children, Arroyo said. But when she reads those texts, sees those pictures and hears about her students dancing, “it makes me miss them even more.”

“Not getting to see their cute little faces is hard,” she said.


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