The coronavirus pandemic has forced a lot of companies to completely overhaul the way they operate. But one creative dance studio is taking it all in its stride.
Capital Dance Centre launched by Ukrainian dancer Artem Golega in late 2018, focuses on ballroom dancing. One of its many specialities is pro-am, a style of teaching wherein the amateur (the student) is paired with a professional (the teacher).
There are many pros to the personalised teaching method. However, the intimate nature of ballroom dancing, coupled with the pro-am method, were an obvious problem during the pandemic that advocated for social distancing.
Moving to an online dance model
In March 2020, when businesses across the country temporarily shut shop, Capital Dance Centre reacted much like other institutions – by suspending activity.
“However, after two weeks, we wanted to ensure that our students don’t lose out on the progress they had made and were still getting the benefits of dance even if we couldn’t open,” says Golega, who is also the managing director.
This led to the launch of online dance classes. “It was not the easiest way; we had to figure out how we could be helpful when it came to partner activities,” he says. “Luckily, even during live classes, there are a lot of exercises and training activities that can be done alone. That was what we decided to focus on.”
Trainers would instruct students over the screen, and created routines that would help their balance, coordination and footwork, and keep them active while they were at home. Just as important were the mental health benefits those classes had, he says.
“We wanted to take their minds away from what was happening, even if it was just for an hour. At that time, there was a lot of uncertainty and we wanted them to forget what was going on around the world.”
Socially-distanced couples dances
In September 2020, when restrictions began to ease, Golega started putting in place plans to bring everyone back. However, a lot of people were uncomfortable with physical proximity to one another.
"Which is why we created an approach wherein they can dance separately and also together. Instead of holding hands, we used things such as ribbons and sticks to get the same movements and help people dance in a contactless way. They could practice everything they had been learning in the online classes and see how these moves can be integrated," he explains.
And what was the reaction like?
“Students were excited. They were tired of live sessions and Zooms – screens in general. This way of dancing gave them a new experience. Instead of holding hands, they would rely on the pull of a ribbon.”
Today, thanks in part to the UAE’s successful vaccination drive, there is no longer a need for social-distanced ballroom dancing. There’s a maximum capacity at every class, and advance bookings are a must. But precautions still need to be observed: face masks must be worn at all times and there are temperature checks for students upon entry. Staff have had to be vaccinated, too.
Getting back their groove
Despite the challenges of 2020, Golega was determined to make the switch to physical sessions as seamless as possible.
In September of 2020, he moved the studio to Al Reem Island, where the interiors have been designed to mimic a traditional ballroom, complete with chandeliers. The goal, he says, was to “make students want to come back and create an environment where they could escape reality for a bit."
In January 2021, in response to the rise of homeschooling, he also launched children's ballroom classes. The aim was to help the little ones get in a little exercise and keep them away from screens, even if it's just for a few hours.
“Ballroom dance also has a lot of benefits for young children," he says. "Apart from helping them stay active, it helps their communication skills, teaches them proper behaviour,” he says.
Meanwhile, the physical benefits of dance for adults can't be underestimated either. Golega points out that it develops stamina, co-ordination, agility and balance. "It even helps posture. As someone from the 21st century, we spend most of our time bent over a laptop. When you're doing ballroom dancing, you're also thinking about the way you present yourself, your poise."
With many students preferring the physical ballroom dance classes (it’s also become a popular option for couples looking for a fun date night idea), he believes that it is exactly what we all need after a trying year. “It’s what brings people together, creates a community.”