On a Tuesday night in late April, Denele Sweet amps up more than 40 of her students for a 30-minute dance practice.
A month-and-a-half ago, Sweet would have been teaching students in-person inside her Warrenton-based business, Encore Dance Studio. Now, she relies on Zoom and Facebook Live to stay connected with her students.
Sweet, like other North Coast fitness instructors, decided to host online classes for students, after she was forced to close her business to in-person classes in mid-March when Gov. Kate Brown issued Oregon’s stay-at-home order.
“It was an abrupt change for our families and students,” Sweet said. “To keep them active with an activity they love and that we love, overnight we had to change our business model to serve our community with what we can.”
Business partners Jamie Savva, Djordje Citovic and Trudy Citovic were to officially open their hot yoga studio, The Fire Station, in mid-March after teaching free classes for about a month.
“We were really building up for that grand opening,” Savva said. “It was scheduled for Saturday and we had to call it Friday. We didn’t know what this was yet but we had to come from a space of keeping people safe. Three days later, all schools were canceled.”
The Fire Station hadn’t yet started charging for classes. After closing the studio, the trio taught classes by livestreaming it on Instagram for a couple weeks, then moved to Zoom.
The group now hosts 10 classes each week, two of which are kids’ yoga classes through a partnership with the Astoria School District. All of the classes are still free.
“We’re working to keep pivoting and adapting in a way that helps everyone,” Savva said.
Established studios are also faced with the questions of what’s to come and how to best move forward. The studios have laid off employees and are working with little income.
“We have some months to go still with very minimal income if any,” Sweet said. “Financially, this has been devastating for the studio. I’ve had to lay off all of my teachers. I know this is a temporary situation but the struggle will continue for some time.”
Dave and Peggy Stevens, who own RiversZen Yoga in Astoria and Ilwaco, Washington, are faced with similar challenges. The studio primarily teaches adults 40 and older, many of whom are over 80 years old.
In the weeks leading up to the studio closures, the number of students attending classes declined significantly. At the same time, the couple has been able to connect with students who have moved away to areas like Florida and South Dakota.
“We’re concerned about whether people will come back,” Peggy Stevens said. “Some people who’ve worked with us for years haven’t joined our online classes. We’re anxious to see who is going to come back.”
Many of the fitness instructors, like the Stevens, plan on offering online courses even after the studios can be opened again, as a way to keep reaching students who aren’t local or who are worried about going into the studio.
While teaching online allows students and instructors to stay connected, the experience is fairly different from in-person classes.
Maddox Dance Studio instructors are also among those staying connected to students. Instructors are creating dance challenges for students to follow along with, which then get posted to the studio’s Facebook page.
Jeanne Maddox Peterson, who opened the studio in 1949, is also sharing videos from renowned instructors on the studio’s Facebook page.
“I’m the kind of teacher that I go around the room constantly, fixing a foot, fixing a hand. Sometimes a word doesn’t do it,” Peterson said. “Things like that are very different online. I miss the actual contact with the kids and the personal connection. You can’t get that online.”
Sweet, who is teaching dance at Encore Dance Studio, agreed. She is currently teaching more than 150 children through online classes for the studio’s annual June recital, which will be hosted virtually this year.
“Teaching online is so much harder for the teacher. It’s exhausting. It’s very different because you can’t have other kids demonstrating,” Sweet said. “Like today, I had to dance the whole time on camera. When I’m in the classroom I can walk around and help the kids so it’s not as taxing on my body.”
Yoga classes, which also are hands-on, have brought instructors challenges. During classes, instructors listen to students’ breathing patterns and watch their forms as they replicate poses.
Seaside Yoga Studio & Retreat Center owner Kristin Kabanuk is continuing to teach classes online through YouTube and Zoom.
“I really miss my students. For a teacher, we thrive on the energy in the room,” Kabanuk said. “We really base our teaching on who is in the room and who is practicing with us. It’s a different experience to teach to a computer screen where you don’t know who is out there and at what time.”
While the experience is different than what she’s used to, Kabanuk said she’s grateful students are still able to practice yoga and connect with themselves.
“We teach to serve the community. Right now, serving looks a little different,” Kabanuk said.
How to stay active
Online classes, whether hosted locally or elsewhere, can be a way to try out new activities as well.
“One of the things I’ve heard is ‘I’m not in shape enough to go to a yoga class,’” Savva said. “Well, how cool is it that there’s no time like the present? You can join a virtual class and turn off your camera. You can try something new that you’re not ready for. This is the time to be adventurous.”
When following an online video to follow, a tactic that might help is to follow the video for shortened sections.
“It’s not about putting on a video and doing everything the instructor is doing,” Kabanuk said. “Start really small. If you’re doing a video, maybe do the first 10 minutes of it and come back to it later. Taking the heat and pressure off will help you feel more motivated to do something.”
One way to decide what activity to do is to create a list of pros and cons for an activity, Peterson said.
“Let’s face it, when this is over we all want to be healthy and in shape and continue on,” Peterson said. “As inactive as we are and for such a long time, it takes a toll on our bodies. We have to keep our active life going.”