Few people have a wooden bar attached waist-high around the walls of their dining rooms, but if you want to take a dance class remotely from instructors with Ballet Austin, you can grab the back of a kitchen chair, a counter — or any other suitable item — and start with the demi-plies.
Ballet Austin class studios, which had been closed for several months because of COVID-19, reopened with a "hybrid schedule," including some in-person classes as well as offering its new live-streamed and pre-recorded classes, says Vicki Parsons, director of Ballet Austin’s Butler Center for Dance and Fitness and Pilates Center.
Those types of classes had to be developed quickly when it shut down suddenly in March. For a group that is "historically nimble," she said, instructors had to make a 180-degree turn in how to offer live-streaming classes and more than 65 prerecorded classes – ranging from ballet to hip-hop, Pilates, arms and abs workouts, and more.
One prerecorded class, titled "Ballet in Small Spaces," is taught by instructor Alexa Capareda from an empty room upstairs at her condo. It was already unfurnished — just a pair of curtains and a clock — with a nice wood floor, she said.
During the "Small Spaces" class, she holds onto a half-wall of the balcony, to use it like a barre, she says: "It’s the perfect height." Students have used kitchen counters or chairs. "I think people use step ladders," she says. "Some people have (to use) just a wall, which is a little bit harder. … A few students have quite a nice setup in their own home."
For those who want to try a class from their houses, it’s a good idea to clear enough space around them so they don’t bump into tables or clutter.
In the prerecorded class — with piano music on a laptop — Capareda goes through a traditional warmup. "Plies will be pretty standard. We’ll take two demis and a grand plie," she instructs early on.
Later she moves to the center of the room and gets a bit more breathless. Toward the end, she tells viewers, "Let’s do something that kind of moves a little bit, but I hope you can modify to fit into your room." Although there are no grande jetes or other large, flying movements across the room, a few pirouettes and such are added into the mix.
"I try to keep moving it along at a good pace, so people still get a good sweat out of it," she says.
Even with returning to teach live, Capareda says, "I’m committed to making something available virtually each week."
Putting together these classes took effort. When the live classes had to cease, Parsons says, the instructors leaped in to help, with most instructors participating. They "just basically had to go home and figure out" how to make it work, Parsons says.
Not long after the shutdown, though, "We had a handful of [prerecorded] videos ready to go," Parsons says. It began by offering those prerecorded, on-demand classes and then added live-stream classes by early April, too. The instructors have shown their resilience. "We have people teaching from really tiny spaces. They’ve said, ‘We realize we can teach from just about anywhere’," Parsons says.
Of course, classes taken at home can’t offer quite the same experience. It’s difficult for an instructor to give individual corrections such as adjusting somebody’s arm position, and there’s not live piano music, Parsons says.
However, these classes have benefits too, Parsons said. Students can "stop and rewind" the prerecorded classes to repeat a movement or watch again (for a period of time), Parsons says. Also, dancers from all over can join in.
"Somebody from South Africa took a class," she says. "We’re having more and more people do it each week."
Even with in-person classes resuming — using cleaning and safety protocols, she says, these days, "many people are not ready to go into a public space."
Also these classes are helpful for people now working from home, rather than downtown, near Ballet Austin’s site at West Third Street, she says.
"With dance," Parsons says, "it’s something you love, so you will want to keep doing it."
Classes and more information, such as costs, can be accessed by visiting balletaustin.org.