By Glynn Cosker
Contributor, Online Career Tips and Managing Editor, EDM Digest
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the way we all live our lives with social distancing and other measures impacting the nation’s business infrastructure in a way not seen since World War II. But that hasn’t stopped some companies from adapting to the new normal by staying proactive and positive. One such business is the 4S Dance Academy in San Diego, California – which quickly switched from in-person dance classes to a virtual format and retained around 80 percent of its client base.
The 4S Dance Academy offers a variety of pre-ballet classes for kids as young as 18 months up to six-year-olds, as well as pre-professional classes for kids from six to 11 and older. Jason and Shay Galloway opened the dance studio in 2015. Jason is the academy’s executive director, and his wife Shay is its artistic director.
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The studio debuted with only 22 students but today has around 300 – along with 12 teachers. The academy is successful and popular, but it was one of thousands of small businesses that had to close its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were trucking along, and we were gearing up for our spring semester of classes and then the pandemic hit,” stated Jason. “We live in a very diverse area and we have a lot of students and families from China – so when the virus first started to make headlines in January, we were actually getting some first-hand information from some of our parents who have family back in China. And, they were saying ‘hey, this is a big deal, you know, you’ll want to keep an eye on it’ so – in a way – it was fantastic to have a finger on the pulse.”
The Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown
The Galloways also kept themselves up to date on local health guidelines and looked into how other schools in the area were reacting to the coronavirus. Realizing the severity of the crisis early on, they closed the dance academy’s doors on March 14 – five days before California became the first state in the nation to order a mandatory lockdown, including the closure of non-essential businesses.
“We needed to figure out a way to seamlessly create an online version of our classes so that the instruction mirrored what we do in our actual studio,” said Jason. “Shay and I are a team, so when the pandemic hit, I made the production aspect my main focus while Shay focused on the best way to duplicate our entire in-person class curriculum into its online equivalent along with all of the logistics of who would teach what and when they’d teach it.”
Like many companies around the world, the 4S Dance Academy adopted Zoom as its go-to platform for virtual activities – using it as a way for the teachers to offer instruction while also watching the students’ dance moves in real time.
“Once we got the technical side set up through Zoom and then connected it to our dance software, we made sure that all of our teachers had the right setup in their homes,” stated Jason. “We worked with them, one by one, to make sure they had a suitable camera and taught them a few simple tricks that could help with audio and lighting. We created a Zoom account for each of our teachers and built their existing class schedules into Zoom.”
Remarkably, the Galloways were able to continue their classes just a few days after California’s mandated lockdown on March 19. Currently, the studio has close to 50 online dance classes at various time throughout the week – which is comparable to their regular in-person schedule.
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Jason and Shay were conscious of the coronavirus pandemic’s economic crunch that would undoubtedly affect each of their students’ families, so Shay came up with a novel approach to adjusting the tuition once the studio switched to online classes: a “pay-as-you-can” model.
“It was a little scary at first,” explained Jason. “Our goal was to make sure that the students and their parents got the same value for money – if not more. So it was Shay who said, ‘We can trust our community that we’ve created and hope that they still see the value and that they will pay what they can.’ This way, if there were families who had lost jobs, the children could continue to dance.”
A “pay-as-you-can” business model has the possibility of backfiring, but the system has succeeded so far.
“We’ve had a number of parents who aren’t paying any tuition now, and some that are paying a reduced tuition,” said Jason. “But we’ve also had a fair number of parents who told us that they hadn’t lost their jobs and that they were actually in a position whereby they could pay a little more than our regular in-person tuition.”
The Technology Required for Online Dance Classes
Jason and Shay said that there were a few technical issues facing the students, their families and the teachers, but they worked through them – even offering to help the participants set up a wired internet connection instead of Wi-Fi and giving advice on improving the bandwidth of each house involved. The couple also made sure that the children’s screens were big enough.
“We had some kids that were using their phones. And – you can’t really see your teacher very well on a phone. So, we helped out those families and made sure that they were all set.”
Once everything was in place, the online classes took off quite seamlessly. Shay, herself an experienced instructor at the studio, was one of the first teachers to try out the online format.
“Online classes are – ironically – a lot more exhausting than a regular class for the students and the teachers because when you’re in a regular class setting, the teacher usually demonstrates and then the students dance,” stated Shay. “And often the students will dance one-by-one or two-by-two or in groups – so in a regular class, the students are waiting and watching each other. When it’s all online, there is no one-by-one or separate groups – you can do it all at the same time. So the classes go a lot faster.”
Shay is also able to offer some one-on-one instruction with some of the students.
“Some of our older students often need the hands-on corrections in our regular classes and with the Zoom setup, I can still give them a combination to do and then watch them do it and give them instruction or corrections,” said Shay.
Jason and Shay Galloway’s 4S Dance Academy in San Diego is an excellent example of how an in-person business can stay afloat during a national crisis like the coronavirus pandemic by staying creative and optimistic, trusting the existing client base, thinking outside the box and staying true to the company’s mission statement – no matter what is happening in the world.
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