It’s easier now than ever during spring to get a little stir crazy. Cooped up at home, those last work tasks don’t seem nearly as important as staring out your window at the beautiful spring weather. Only a few weeks ago, there were many wonderful options in our valleys to help get those wiggles out and focus your mind, before returning home from school or the office. While it may seem like the only way to exercise nowadays is on a safely distanced neighborhood walk, many businesses are getting creative with their services and providing quarantine approved options!
Amongst our growing virtual community, Agape Dance Studio, Ananda Yoga, LightSpeed Martial Arts Academy, and Toadal Fitness are all offering virtual classes via Facebook or Zoom. I spoke with the owner Agape, Melanie Useldinger, and the owner of LightSpeed Martial Arts, Matt Salisbury, to learn more about their virtual transition. Both owners are using Facebook and Zoom to conduct weekly classes. Agape already has a schedule ironed out with 3-8 classes per day, including pre-professional, stretch and strengthening, pre-point, point, petite (for 3-7 year olds), and adult classes. LightSpeed is still finalizing their plans, but hopes to continue the little dragons classes (4-6 years old), beginner, intermediate, and advanced martial arts, fitness, teen, adult, specialty weapons, trick acrobatics, and leadership classes as well. They’ll also be renting equipment for training at home.
According to Useldinger, the community outcry for virtual classes was quite similar to the insistent need for dance classes when she first began her business. Before founding the company, Useldinger studied at the San Francisco Ballet, Banff School of Fine Arts, Pennsylvania Ballet, and the New York City Ballet and danced professionally for the San Francisco Ballet, Dance Theater of Kansas, and the San Jose Dance Theater. She was “happily raising five kids, and [she] didn’t want teaching to get in the way of being a mom, but so many wanted [her] to bring dance to our community.” When the Covid crisis began, Useldinger understood the importance of the keeping the studio open, “It’s a real need in our community. Dancing makes people feel better and we want to share that.” On top of sharing their passion with the community, Useldinger knows the stakes are high for students, “We have kids going to the Boston Ballet… the London ballet… it’s really important to keep their training up so the demand to go virtual was huge. It had to be done immediately, to keep them ready.” To continue the classes, they “originally raised our cleaning practices, and had a day of social distancing class. But the next day, we were shut down.”
While Useldinger’s “dancers were quite dismayed about the cancelation of their next performance,” an adaptation of Don Quixote, she quickly found a way to host classes-in-place. It might be difficult to picture a virtual dance class, but Useldinger describes it well, “As soon as the instructors begin teaching, they are consumed with their passion, they forget about the screen they’re there to teach and dance and inspire. It’s amazing to watch… The dancers finish the class on their individual screens, with their legs in the air or all down on the ground or leaning on countertops in their bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and you can feel the sense of community.”
Salisbury was also eager to share about the connection in his martial arts community. Practicing in Scotts Valley since 1994, Salisbury took over his business from his longtime Master, Randall Smith, in 2008. Smith now owns another studio in Felton, the San Lorenzo Valley Martial Arts Academy and Salisbury shared plans to “combine the content and bring the two schools together in these trying times.” He spoke passionately about Smith’s contributions to his studio, “There’s a real sense of community. Smith is our Grand Master who passes down tradition and value to all of our students, myself included.”
LightSpeed currently has about 160 students they’d like to help through virtual training. Salisbury chuckles, “Despite my 28 years’ experience, I’m a beginning student in online teaching, but hopefully I’ll receive my black belt soon… Martial arts training has always been very personal and hands on. With this new medium of interaction, we’re offering new challenges, prizes, virtual testing, and home lesson plans to encourage our students to continue working on their progress.”
Useldinger perfectly summarized the main desire for both studios, “We want to teach our kids passion, perseverance, and strength, especially during these hard times.”
To still allow her dancers the “payoff of performance,” Useldinger has begun to create dance videos. I recommend you watch the first here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOLl0CAhPP0. You can learn more about Agape Zoom Classes here: https://agapedance.com/zoom-classes and get in touch with Salisbury from LightSpeed Martial Arts here: http://www.lightspeedmartialarts.com/contact.php. You can also attend a virtual Agape or LightSpeed class on either of their Facebook pages.