Closed Doors, Open Hearts at California Dance Theatre

March 13, 2020 California experienced a monumental change that hit as hard as any earthquake. The doors were suddenly locked to schools, restaurants, malls and, yes, dance studios. 

California Dance Theatre, in the midst of their 34th year, suspended 120 weekly classes and put a pause on the spring production of Pacific Festival Ballet’s ‘The Secret Garden’. This family operated business, like many in the Conejo Valley, complied without question. However, they were quick to realize the impact that closing doors would have on their studio as days progressed into weeks. 

On any given afternoon there is a bustle of activity in CDT’s ten thousand square foot facility with moms prepping little girls in pink, school kids entering with backpacks and dance bags, teenagers and teachers arriving prepared to spend up to five hours in class and rehearsal. Immediately, there is a sense of community and camaraderie as five studios fire up their sound systems and dancers file in like enthusiastic soldiers. 

Enter, April 2020, and the once-vibrant studio is silent.  Artistic Director, Kim Maselli walks from room to room feeling as if she were in a library or church. 

“It was a strange feeling to wander about the empty studios realizing how much can change so quickly” says Maselli. “ I kept seeing the faces of our students, families and teachers  and I knew we had to create something to keep us all engaged and encouraged during this scary time.”

A YouTube channel for California Dance Theatre was a venture that had been thought of ,yet set aside, due to the busyness of each day. Now, it was time to move this project front and center. CDT teachers rallied by contributing dance classes in all genres. Also created for CDT’s social media was a platform called Teacher’s Talk. Each day a 30 second video features a different faculty member giving students words of encouragement. Within two weeks CDT’s channel had two thousand subscribers and people were dancing from home.

One father, with two dancing daughters, texted Ms. Maselli saying “I used to hear your voice commanding instruction in dance classes and rehearsals and now you are in my living room!”

After the Stay at Home mandate was extended, the need for more interactive instruction was apparent. CDT’s administrative team put their heads together creating an online curriculum through Zoom.

“This was a huge learning curve for all of us” says Executive Director, Michael Maselli, ‘however we knew virtual instruction was important during this time of seclusion.”

While online dance classes are not ideal for long-term instruction, these virtual classes continue to educate, encourage and keep the love of dance flourishing. 

A stream of responses flowed from families grateful their children could engage in a sense of normalcy by seeing their friends and teachers online.

Keeping this world crisis and community effort for wellness centerstage is CDT’s first priority however, the celebration will be great when we can all come together again, both in and out of the dance studio! 

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