There is no question that this is a challenging time. At nearly 79 years old, I was planning my 50th year at the Academy of Movement and Music as a celebration of a life well lived. My task was to set up a succession plan for the school, to have fun with the last two recitals and to feel that things were just about set to be on automatic pilot.
Then suddenly everything changed. The school had to close — this meant that students from 22 months to graduating high school seniors and some adults could not come into the building, and a staff of nearly 50 people had to either learn to teach remotely — or file for unemployment. No classes, no recitals.
Nothing in my experience of 50 years had prepared me for Zooming with my students dancing in their living rooms — or kitchens or wherever they could find a place to work. For years the Academy had had a consistent staff — many of the teachers were people who had grown up as very young students in the school or who had been with us for years. The school administrator is someone I had known since she was a teen; many of the other teachers and staff had started as Academy parents. These are not just employees; they are friends and they are family.
The school is based in the arts, and though it is a for-profit business, none of us has done what we do to make a lot of money. We do what we do because we love what we teach and we truly love the children. I was very fortunate that when I turned to my staff and asked, “Can we do this?” we all did, and so we Zoom, we send home videos of teachers doing fun things that can be done at home, and I have learned how to fill out forms for government loans.
We are so very grateful for the support from our families and 80 percent of our staff are still working, perhaps at reduced hours, but the learning curve has been steep and I believe most of us are working harder than ever. I think we will get through this, even if it goes on for longer than any of us would like.
We will go forward with both the old ways and the new ways of teaching and all be the wiser for it. For me it has been a challenge, but also a stimulus and I feel that perhaps I am not too old a dog to learn some new tricks.
Stephanie Clemens is the founder and longtime director of the Academy of Movement and Music and the Momenta dance troupe.