Ontario dance industry suffering from lockdown measures
Ontario dance studios faced closures since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last March and operators say it’s hurting their young dancers.
It is still very unclear when the provincial government will allow their normal operation considering the announcement made by Premier Doug Ford on May 13 about extending the stay-at-home order until June 2.
Christine Campbell, an owner of the dance studio Ballare Studio Dance in Toronto, said she didn’t expect the lockdown restrictions would last so long and wasn’t prepared for transferring to online classes.
“It was extremely stressful,” she said. “I was able to at least keep my employees working, paid, but I don’t think people understand that our expenses didn’t change and I actually had to take on a bigger expense by getting Zoom accounts.”
Campbell said she wasn’t able to get government help right away because landlords were supposed to apply for a subsidy. Since she couldn’t convince her landlord she waited until she was eligible to apply for financial assistance in October, which left her in a financial strain for seven months.
She said her studio was allowed to open only once during the pandemic, in July for summer camps with a limit of nine children but it wasn’t profitable. Campbell said she lost anywhere 60 to 70 per cent of her clientele.
“So when we go back into this, we’re not starting off with where we left off, we’re starting over,” Campbell said.
She said trust is vital in this industry and that is something the lockdown is taking away and since many of her clients are underage, it is especially challenging.
“People are entrusting their children” to her, Campbell said. “We’re not a retail store that’s just gonna have stock and people come into this door. Kids are over online learning. We’ve had many people who didn’t return.
“They were like, ‘my kid can’t keep going through this, and I completely understand,” she said.
Campbell said she is a part of the campaign Dance Ontario, which advocates for dance studio owners and she strongly believes recreation is not where COVID cases are spreading.
“We have not had a single case or outbreak,” she said. “I do feel we can operate safely and effectively and we have proven that when we’ve been given the opportunity to be open.”
While Ontario dance studios are begging for a chance to reopen, the situation looks much better in Alberta.
Mary Anne Kuebler, an owner of the dance studio Dancefusion Academy of Dance in Edmonton, said though they were closed at the beginning of the pandemic they were operating summer camps and had outdoor classes until November 2020. The studio received permission to resume indoor classes with limited capacity in February.
“I think that the kids benefit from physical activity,” Kuebler said. “It’s the social interaction of being in a facility where they can see people their own age and interact with them, especially because a lot of these kids have been dancing with each other for several years so they develop a family bond.”
Campbell agrees that it is vital for children’s physical and mental state to be dancing, and wants Ontario to follow the example of other provinces.
“They want to be with friends and they’re isolated from them,” she said. “What I have seen is a lot of depression, a lot of like anxiety being built up and not about getting COVID but about being shut down again, and being ripped away from something that they love to do.
“My heart is breaking for these kids,” Campbell said.
She said she is concerned the lockdown will last much longer than the officials are claiming following Ford’s latest announcement.
“I miss the kids, I miss their hugs,” she said. “I miss them getting the excitement of when they hit a skill that they’ve been working on. I don’t want to watch them lose their passion.”