There’s a lot going on in the world right now, which mean there’s a lot of uncertainty. Here in the UK we were advised to avoid non-essential contact from Monday the 16th of March. The advice came out while I was teaching dance classes in a local hall. The following day most of the dance school’s I work at decided they would have to close their doors. This decision was mainly made to help people out with their decision, with any outstanding fees going towards a refund or extra make up classes. But this leaves us with a big gap in income. We simply can’t teach if we don’t have a big space or the ability to have more than household members in a group. Which is why many of us dance teachers are turning to teaching online.
I tried it out on Friday for the first time, and honestly it wasn’t that bad. I only did a couple of stretch and conditioning classes to try and test it out, but found that actually it went pleasantly well. There were a few things to look out for though. During my senior class they noticed that another member of the class wasn’t there so there was a lot of texting by one and some waiting around to get her to join. I need to approve people to get in too, so that meant I had to keep going back over to the laptop to check if the student had typed in all the details. Once in it was fine, if a little strange for her to have joined 20 minutes in. I also had a few where the internet wasn’t quite as strong as it perhaps needed to be, which meant they kept dropping out. It seemed that during this drop out period they were still able to see me, but I couldn’t see them. Personally, I’d be fine with this, however, it raises an issue with insurance as they’ve stated only two-way video is allowed. So make sure you do check in with insurers to see what is covered and what isn’t.
Throughout the two sessions that I ran I felt that I constantly needed to ask them if they could hear me properly or not. This may have taken away a little from the lesson, but I think once I get used to how the software interacts with my voice and the music that will stop. The software I did use was Zoom. I think right now it’s getting a lot of use as everyone works remotely or tries to put their classes online. It can be used on laptops, apple devices and google devices, so it felt like a good fit for most people. If I’m really honest it was also the one that most other dance teachers were turning too, so I felt it would have the most advice and similar users to give help/feedback if and when I needed it.
Before setting it up, I made sure I could actually plausibly use it. The free account gives you 40 minutes free, which covers most of my lessons. There’s just a couple that are an hour, everything else about 40/45 minutes long. If I do feel like I need to upgrade it’s a rolling contract, so I wouldn’t need to pay for 6 months of use, even though it may come to that! I also tried connecting using different devices around the house, checking the user experience. This meant I was able to write a little set up for them, I also found that they themselves don’t need to create and account, which I great news when many of the children may be using their own phones to access the classes. On top of this, I am also able to password protect the classes. I felt that this would be a good thing for the dance classes as I want to know exactly who is in the sessions and limit it to students in the dance communities we’ve created. On top of this it means that if we do eventually need to charge for these services it can be limited to those who have paid, by only releasing the payment once payment has been made to the right place. I’ve already mentioned this but way before I even tried the app, I checked with my insurance! Find out what they are or aren’t covering. Some insurers have changed their policies to allow this kind of dance teaching during this period (probably because they’ve been asked so many times recently!). Also check to see what music licences you’ll need. It turns out that any regular music licence you have for face to face classes, probably won’t cover you. If you’re reluctant to find the right music licence then you’ll be limited to copyright free music or syllabus music. I found that PPL/PRS have an online music licence and popped my dance business through as a webcast, as that felt the most appropriate, prices will vary and there is a minimum spend on the licence. To get around that minimum spend I bumped up how long I wanted to be covered for until I got to a similar price for the minimum spend, why spend that money but only be covered for two months? I’m now covered until September instead.
The experience is a little weird as the space everyone has available is really varied. Some had plenty of space to move around whereas others found they had to keep moving their device into a new part of the room in order to do what was being asked. You also have a less control over the students, be warned they may start eating food or fighting with a sibling half way through. On the whole though everyone was super supportive of keeping everyone active during this time.
One great piece of advice I have for everyone is to connect up your device to a bigger screen, I hooked up my laptop to a big TV, the sound still come from the laptop, but being able to see them all on such a big screen felt a lot easier than squinting to see them on the small laptop screen in the corner. Also use the mute tool, I have juniors that love to talk to each other, especially as it was a bit of a novelty for them. I let them know when I could hear them and when they couldn’t be hear. Which did work well, by them end I was able to do stretching with them all unmuted and the chat was very minimal compared to how it had been at the start.
As I get more used to this way of teaching I’m got a bit more adventurous and got one group to practice their routines. It was great to see them all having a go at marking/rehearsing the routines themselves. I didn’t notice that much of a delay, I was playing the music and to me they all seemed to be on time. This may have been because the group was smaller, perhaps as the size gets bigger so too does the delay between sound and picture. Again, this is another thing to be wary of as time goes on.