The coronavirus pandemic has made even the most routine tasks like grocery shopping and going to work risky.
For those who participate in group activities, it has been even more of a challenge. For instructors and dancers at the Rose & Sword Academy of Irish Dance in Williamsburg and Yorktown, they have had to get creative in order to adapt to the COVID-19 world.
The academy has had to make several changes.
They temporarily suspended classes at their Yorktown studio due to low class enrollment and moved all of their instruction over to the Williamsburg location, said Kathy Nelson, a TCRG dance instructor and the owner of the Rose & Sword Academy of Irish Dance.
“We just didn’t have enough people coming in,” Nelson said, adding it really put a strain on the academy. “You know down the road, we’re hoping business will come back again.”
“It’s been a challenge,” Nelson added.
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Nelson said the academy was renting their Yorktown studio from the Virginia Regional Ballet. While a few of their York County dancers made the trip to Williamsburg or chose to attend virtual dance classes, a majority of the students did not continue lessons.
In March of last year, the academy boasted 80 students. Now, they only have half of that.
The Rose & Sword Academy of Irish Dance changed their teaching format, offering their dancers lessons in outdoor sessions and virtually through Zoom.
Some of their advanced students went from taking 4-6 classes per week to only a two hour Zoom session.
“When you’re trying to dance, when you’re trying to teach steps, it’s really hard,” Nelson said, referring to the Zoom classes.
The challenges found by the instructors during virtual classes have included correcting steps, execution of dance technique and, of course, timing.
“When you’re doing Zoom there is a delay,” Nelson said, adding that she starts the music on her end and the dancers come in at a different time. “But we adapted to it. It’s different, like I said, it’s been a challenge.”
“You have to learn to be creative, you have to learn new ways of doing things and encouraging the dancers,” Nelson said.
She also said that she was writing up steps and drills for the dancers to do at home while another instructor, Isabelle Hollingsworth, was making videos of the steps and sending them to the dancers.
“When this happened, even though we lost a lot of people, Isabelle and I had to do a lot more work,” Nelson said, adding the different format didn’t lead to more income, either.
Now they’ve begun offering in-person classes as well.
For the in-person dance classes, the students can spread out in the 24 X 40 studio space with taped markers on the floor to separate them.
The classes range from as little as 3-4 dancers to as large as 8 students.
As for future plans, Nelson said the academy was invited to perform at Busch Gardens on Saturday, March 6, as part of the theme park’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
“When we got the offer, we were very excited,” Nelson said.
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Other upcoming performances include two outdoor events at the Waterman’s Museum in Yorktown, including Pirate Invasion and Tartans & Tie-Dye Day.
While the academy does have several performances lined up, Nelson said it is less than they usually have.
“We used to get a lot of the retirement homes,” Nelson said, “But that all ended last year with COVID.”
Nelson said the academy used to receive “tons” of phone calls starting the August in order to book performances for the following March. Rose & Sword Academy of Irish Dance would average 15 performances throughout the month.
Now they only have one: Busch Gardens.
During 2020, the dance academy performed at Williamsburg’s 2nd Sundays Art & Music Festival. Their last in person performance was at the York River Maritime Heritage Festival last October.
As for the dance academy’s summer camp, which typically starts in July, Nelson said she has no idea what the schedule will look like or if it will happen at all.
“I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Nelson said in terms of coronavirus restrictions. “I’m just kind of playing it by ear.”
In the meantime, Nelson said the academy has started entering their students into virtual Irish dance competitions, also called “feis.”
“A lot of the competitions are overseas,” she added.
Nelson said that while the academy would normally not be able to afford the international travel for competitions, the dancers now have the opportunity to participate in this new virtual format.
One competition was based in Scotland, where the dancers received medals and sashes. Another was the Unicorn Feis in Australia. Nelson said the dancer from Rose & Sword Academy of Irish Dance performed at Yorktown beach for their submission and won.
Now the academy is working on making video submissions for a competition in Ireland and as well as another in Germany.
“Trust me, it’s changed everything,” Nelson said.
“The Irish dance, one thing to think about: It’s a great form of exercise for the kids,” Nelson said, adding that goes for adults too. “It’s really helped them by dancing mentally through this time, it gives them an outlet.”
The current hours of operation at the Williamsburg studio, 3715 Strawberry Plains Road, Suite 6 are Mondays from 4:15-8:30 p.m. Tuesday from 5-9:00 p.m. and Wednesdays from 4:45-8:30 p.m.
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