zooming away

So lockdown. That old chestnut. Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. The voice of actor Mark Strong echoing round our heads (think it’s his voice anyway.) Whoever came up with that slogan must be very pleased with themselves. But this is our new life. The ‘New Norm’. To start with I watched the news regularly, then stopped around week 3. It wasn’t giving me anything. No clarity. I know what’s happening without needing the PM updates (and I can just watch Matt Lucas for the latest news anyway…) But what I can do is contribute in the way I can. To share and offer, and to spread and sprinkle moments of joy in the form of dance.

When lockdown hit we were half way through our 2nd block of 50+ Contemporary Dance Sheffield classes. With a gentle nudge from one of my dancers, I took the plunge to transfer the classes online. She had experience using zoom and put me on track to a webinar so that I could quickly get to grips with the basics.

I decided to offer three classes per week as opposed to one due to many of my participants being in the high risk category (and to keep me sane with a weekly structure!) I wanted to provide regular opportunities for engagement, connection and creativity. I was skeptical and had many thoughts before starting and as we progressed through those first few weeks:

      • Should the sessions be live or pre recorded?
      • How to transfer skills online
      • Can the online medium offer a valued experience rather than a substitute
      • How to maintain best practice, high professional standards and duty of care as a facilitator
      • How to place the Value – should sessions be donation based or charged?
      • Is ZOOM the best platform?
      • Security – getting zoom bombed in week 1 made this a top priority
      • Safety – everyone having their camera on
      • No live feedback during a session – delivering to a ‘dead space’
      • Music quality

Some answers were quicker than others to the questions above such as making the sessions live. The trouble with pre recorded content is that something that can be done anytime, can be left for a long time. Participating in a live class brings connection and community.

“Very good to have the discipline of a specific time to share in the joy of dance and maintaining physical health. Because they’re live they break the monotony of lockdown, and therefore I commit in a way that I don’t necessarily commit to online workshops that are downloadable”

50+CDS Online Classes flyer: Created by Heather Bingham

After a few sessions I gained confidence. My chat got better. I stopped saying ‘cool’ all the time. I found a rhythm with the sessions. I introduced 10 minutes either side of the session for people to arrive early and stay later for a chat. This helped humanise the process for me. I needed to hear other voices than my own.

As we moved further into lockdown and discussions began online between practitioners wanting to move classes online, I was contacted by numerous freelancers asking to share experience and give advice. Director Of Learning at People Dancing, Anna Leatherdale invited me for a conversation with Iona Waite, Education Programme Manager at ACE Dance and Music. Here’s our recorded chat from April where we discuss our experiences working online:

Working through a screen I found the sessions intense and concentrated rather than fluid and flexible but I learnt to adapt my delivery style for screen. Now if I’m asked to deliver pre recorded content I’m like oh really?! I am not where I thought I would be 3 months ago! But then who is?! Who knew we would all be upskilling in this way? It will be interesting to note how the learning from this time translates into in person classes once again. I never thought I’d be technically savvy with this but then why not?

“Awesome. Top choice of music. I feel so much more upbeat than I did before”

“That was SO great! Me and my mum had so much fun!”

To date I have delivered 33 sessions over 11 weeks engaging a minimum of 85 people across Sheffield and beyond. Since moving the sessions online we have created a community of people from all over the UK, from Newcastle to London! One of the benefits of delivering online classes is that they are not restricted to geographical areas. Having the classes donation based with a suggested payment amount, also makes them accessible for anyone facing financial difficulties at this time.

We began with our original core group from Sheffield and now have an online community engaging an average of 15 people per session. The classes provide opportunities for people to engage who hadn’t previously in the face-face classes such as people living with illness, injuries and any mobility issues. One dancer took a class from her hospital room at Weston Park telling us to “don’t mind them!” when the nurses were coming in and out. Sadly she has since passed away but we will continue to dance joyfully together in her memory. This illustrates the massive positives to accessibility with online classes. Another lovely reflection is that the classes have become intergenerational. We’ve had 7 under 10 year olds (including two babies) and all the decades from 20’s to 70’s. We’ve also had some duets and even trios from people in the same houses! 

“Really enjoyed it. Despite the strange look from the neighbours delivery man!”

“I’ve really enjoyed the freedom to just be ‘in the zone’ and explore in a different way than I would do in class”

There are countless moments of joy the classes have brought (for me and I hope for everyone else!) Having three a week has provided a structure for us over the past 11 weeks and also allows me to offer a variety from set choreography and routines to improvisation and creative classes. So there’s something for everyone 🙂

No one knows how long the current situation will last. But if we’re still in lockdown, I’ll still be here delivering the sessions from my bedroom!