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Dance Studios Languish Behind Shuttered Doors Waiting for Phase Five

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Manda M,
Michigan

“I feel like we have been left behind…There was so much attention when the salons and the bars were closed. They were in the capital with AR-15s protesting not being able to get a haircut… Ever since those things have opened, there has been no talk about businesses that are still closed.”

Manda’s Rhythm & Dance Studio is not just a dance studio. It is a place for young girls to have a getaway and blossom with confidence. Some of these girls have been taking ballet, tap, or hip hop since they were two years old. The years of shared passion and close connections bring this wonderful dance culture. The studio has a competitive team who come to class three or four times a week. Many middle-school and high-school members are a part of the National Dance Honor Society. There is an internship program; they do toy drives for Christmas and food drives during Thanksgiving. It’s so much more than just kids taking dance classes.

Manda is very proud of her dance studio. She herself was once an eight-year-old girl dancing with a dream. By middle school, she knew that opening a dance school was her future. She was instructing her own classes by sixteen. In college, she studied entrepreneurship and she opened up her dance studio when she was only twenty two. Now, it supports her family. Both she and her husband work there.

It’s been 15 great years now. Every year, the dance studio celebrates the work that the four hundred kids have done with a large recital in June. The kids who have been with her for years find it very exciting. It’s a really big deal, and even the theme gets a lot of fanfare. For this year’s 15th anniversary it was going to be a circus theme.

“We had hired some circus performers from an area circus club in Detroit that were supposed to come and do circus acts as people were coming in. All the kids were different… We had little baby elephants and little baby lions. Every class was going to be a part of this circus recital.”

And then suddenly everything was shut down. The recital was first postponed to August and then indefinitely. Now in August, dance studios still haven’t opened up. Michigan has stated that dance studios will open in phase five of the reopening, but they are only in phase four, and now there are talks about dropping back to phase three. The studio may not be able to open the whole year.

It’s depressing. Manda’s Rhythm & Dance Studio takes up four units in the middle of a plaza. The salon next to it opened in June and is busier than ever with people coming in and out doing their hair. The cabinet shop on the other side has many customers as people are working on their homes while they’re home, but the dance studio is just sitting there, doing nothing.

“I feel like a lot of people have forgotten the industries that are not open yet because there was a lot of advocating for the supply lines into the bars and the restaurants. But then once that happened, we didn’t hear anything else about the businesses that were still not open.”

Not being able to open has been devastating on so many levels.

Emotionally, there was such a huge loss. For some of the kids, life was completely turned upside down. For her students, dancing was an escape from the pressures of school or issues at home. Their best friends were at the studio. They were such a close-knit group, and not only was the recital cancelled but the normal dance classes were also cancelled. The studio started doing Zoom classes, and in the beginning the kids would get on and cry because they were so happy to see each other and the teachers.

In terms of finances, Manda is wondering if she’ll be able to make it to next year. The recital supplies the studio with a quarter of their revenue for a normal year. Every year they sell out three shows with over a thousand in the audience. They hadn’t even started selling tickets and it was cancelled.

Normally, the studio runs on monthly payments. That means that her customers hadn’t paid for the whole year. The last full month of tuition they received was from March. Her studio was hurting so badly financially that there was little else she could do beside asking some of her customers directly for help: “If this was a part of your monthly budget and your circumstances have not changed and you’re able to continue paying your monthly payments, we would really appreciate it.” Of course, it wasn’t mandatory. Manda didn’t feel right requiring anybody to pay for classes that couldn’t be taken because the studio wasn’t open. 

The studio did try new ventures. They created a virtual dance space that had a YouTube channel with classes her students could take. They did special events and story time with teachers. They put on princess parties and other activities. 

Payment, though, was based on the discretion of their customers. At the end of March, a quarter of the people continued paying. After that, the numbers dropped significantly. By June, when normally the last tuition payment is received, only two percent of the people paid their tuition.

Government assistance wasn’t much help. Manda managed to procure a PPP loan, but since the studio couldn’t open, the PPP was hard to use. The Zoom classes were a temporary fix in the beginning, but even those dropped off because kids spent all day in front of a computer as it was. Nobody wanted to dance in front of a computer on top of that. She was able to get a small business loan, but that’s been frustrating. The loan payments will start in November, and she may not be open in November.

Manda’s finding it hard to imagine how the dance studio will stay afloat if they can’t get some classes open. They’re trying everything they can do. And her staff are suffering as well, even more so now that the unemployment bonus may be ending. This August, they’re starting up some classes outside in a park. Hopefully, the weather stays nice and they’ll be able to continue them, but if the studio can’t open by January, Manda says, she may really have to reevaluate the business.

Reopening may not save the studio either. Manda knows that if classes do open up, probably a lot of the clientele will be too afraid to come back. Everybody will be social distancing, and a lot of the time between classes will be spent on disinfecting. It’s not going to be anything like it used to be.

“The biggest emotional struggle for me is letting down the kids and losing the business that I worked so hard to get to the place where it was, just in the blink of an eye, just slipping away, and not knowing if we’re going to be able to recover from it.”

Read more personal stories from Michigan with how a coffee bar stays one step ahead of Covid-19 or how Julie was masked up and locked in to give birth in the pandemic.