The danger of COVID-19 left many small business owners in a risky situation. According to a poll released by the US Chamber of Commerce, the pandemic has created significant financial concern for 82% of small businesses. Non-essential companies have needed to get creative in their approach to functioning in a pandemic.
This is true for Premier School of Dance, a local dance studio in Cary, North Carolina. As a family-run studio, teacher-student interaction is integral for the proper functioning of their business. Monica Derrenbacher, owner and director of the studio, built Premier School of Dance on a foundation of commitment and friendship. Each dancer brought up in this studio joins a tight-knit family of teachers and students.
Monica’s daughter, Taylor, recently assumed her position as the co-director of Premier School of Dance, alongside her mother. Taylor stated, “Monica and I strive to create a loving and supportive community to allow our dancers to grow as a family.” However, in her third year of ownership, COVID-19 hit and disrupted their usual flow of business. And like many other dance studios in the Triangle, Premier School of Dance adopted the practice of virtual dance classes.
Surviving the Initial Throws of COVID-19 as a Small Business
On March 12, the dancers were hard at work, preparing for the competition scheduled for that weekend. However, that rehearsal took place as COVID-19 was rapidly spreading in North Carolina and schools were beginning to close. Suspicions of postponed competitions circled through the studio that night. They were confirmed the following morning.
Premier School of Dance couldn’t stop all operations because routines need to be frequently rehearsed. Zoom was adopted as the primary source of communication and was used to continue dance classes through virtual calls.
At first, Taylor and Monica slowly began to host dance class calls. In these calls they would have a weekly workout class and they would offer small classes with guest choreographers. Then they created a schedule for the Zoom calls so that they could continue their rehearsals in hopes that their dance competitions could be rescheduled.
The only way Taylor Derrenbacher could describe this period of quarantine was exhausting. She says, “It was absolutely draining as we went through fifteen weeks of constant calls with 58 classes per week. We had to constantly monitor the links that were provided for the girls to access the classes to prevent strangers from logging into the calls as well”.
From little ones to grown women, the entire studio was involved in the Zoom calls.
Images courtesy of Premier School of Dance.
Finding Comfort Despite Quarantine
Monica Derrenbacher has always preferred being able to interact with her students in person. The 15 weeks of Zoom calls were a major change for her and she missed the dance studio. Eventually, the studio’s staff planned something to celebrate all that she has done for the studio on Mother’s Day.
Taylor Derrenbacher created a plan, with the help of fellow studio teachers, Melissa Baker and Whitney Laneir, to celebrate Monica while also maintaining social distancing. They decided upon a drive-by Mother’s Day parade! Each dancer was able to drive by the studio in their own cars to greet Monica with their best wishes.
The studio’s dancers showed up in a long line of cars, covered in balloons and posters. It moved Monica to tears and served as a major boost in moral in the midst of a pandemic. Taylor reflected, “The transition to virtual dance classes was significant for our owner, Monica. She deserved to feel loved and this was the safest way to honor the woman that made it all possible!”
Adjusting to Outdoor Classes and New Norms
Premier School of Dance wasn’t the only studio that needed to adjust their rehearsal plans throughout the pandemic. As Taylor Derrenbacher is very young, co-running the studio was extremely difficult throughout these circumstances. However, she confided in the tight-knit community of dance studios in North Carolina. She describes the system of studios as supportive as they collaborated to figure out the safest ways to move forward.
It’s no lie that the arts have suffered from the pressures of the pandemic. The fact that local studios have worked together, rather than competed, during quarantine was important in maintaining the dance community.
When the governor transitioned NC into Phase 2, Premier School of Dance was able to host outdoor classes in their parking lot. While following the state’s health guidelines, the studio reopened to their regular scheduled classes.
Taylor and Monica Derrenbacher ensured that they took all of the necessary precautions to prevent cross-contamination. They used a non-contact thermometer on all dancers at the beginning and end of each class. Dancers spaced out in their own personal parking spot to maintain a 6-foot distance. Above all, they prioritized each student’s health and safety by also requiring hand-sanitizing upon entry to the parking lot.
Image courtesy of Premier School of Dance.
Maintaining Traditions: Recitals
Recitals have always been Premier School of Dance’s biggest tradition. As all of the dancers gather to show off their hard work to their families, it has been a beloved custom that all students look forward to.
Normal recitals create a crowd of approximately 600 family members and 200 dancers. The state’s social distancing guidelines would not allow that kind of gathering, therefore Monica and Taylor Derrenbacher had to get creative. They decided upon a smaller recital in which each recreational dance class could perform their dances for their families, seated six feet apart.
Check out that social dis-dancing!
Images courtesy of Premier School of Dance.
Moving Forward as a Small Business
Now that summer is swiftly moving past us, Premier School of Dance has thought up new ways to move forward into the upcoming dance season. The Derrenbachers ensure that the technique of all of their dancers is maintained through their new system of private lessons and small group classes, offered to students of all ages. The Derrenbachers use their new system of private lessons and small group classes
They have ensured that the plan for the remainder of the summer classes is simple. Each class is two hours long and only allows 10 dancers per class. The studio has also made it a requirement that there is absolutely no cross-over between each dance class in order to allow ample time to wipe down and sanitize the studio.
Regarding the upcoming dance season, Premier School of Dance plans to offer its regular classes. However, in order to prioritize the health of its dancers, they will limit each class to 10 dancers per studio. Based on the square footage of each room, they have marked 10×10 squares on the dance floors, which will serve as each dancer’s designated dancing space. Teachers will wear a mask and spend ten minutes between each class to allow for the proper sanitation of the studio. Premier School of Dance is excited to be able to see their dancers again, but they will never forget their need to hold the safety of their dancers at their highest priority.
Advice for Other Small Businesses
Taylor Derrenbacher has advice to all small business owners. She stated, “The biggest factor in maintaining your small business is to constantly communicate with your customers. Especially as a family business, this has always been important to us. Everyone in our community is in the same boat in this pandemic and the most important thing for us is to do what is best for our dance family.”
You can find updates on how small businesses are responding to Covid-19 in our series: “The Great Pivot.”