Thirteen-year-old Ginny Hutton “is really pretty shy,” her parents say. But pursuing the art of dance has brought her performance and competitive spirit to the forefront.
“When she gets on stage, she comes to life,” said her father, Casey Hutton. “The stage doesn’t scare her.”
Ginny, who’s been taking dance classes since she was 5, is one of the company’s devoted students who’s committed to advancing her dance training.
“I really think I like the performance aspect of (dance) most -- to show everybody what I do and work so hard for,” she said.
And she’s among area dance students who are able to continue that training, even though social distancing requirements -- mandated to prevent the spread of the coronavirus -- have barred her from attending class in-person with her teachers at the North Dakota Ballet Company.
In response to this restrictive development, Laura Arnason, executive director and artistic director, and her colleagues decided to offer online classes -- via Zoom, a group-meeting computer application software -- for their dancers, as well as others in the community, at no cost.
Last week, the company launched the class on a trial basis.
“We wondered, would this work? Would the community be open to this?” Arnason said. “We were amazed by the (number of) people logging in.”
“And people are coming back,” she said. “Other dance companies are sharing it (online) and sending links for Zoom meetings.”
This week, the company offered three classes live per day; most of the classes are scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m., after regular school’s distance learning schedules and teachers’ hours. Some pre-recorded dance classes are offered, too.
Because the ballet company does not have the most high-end equipment in terms of bandwidth, it has encountered some “hiccups” in the project’s roll out, Arnason said.
They’ve been working on correcting these issues, and now it’s fun “to see all these girls popping up (on screen) in their living rooms,” she said.
Arnason and her colleagues have been pleasantly surprised by responses from parents and students alike.
“It’s been more than we expected; we thought, wow, this is unbelievable,” she said. “Messages are flowing in; parents are very, very grateful.”
Ginny’s mother, Helen Hutton, said the online dance classes have allowed her daughter “to stay connected with her friends, and she keeps moving.”
Ginny “has strong performance goals,” she said. "She can continue with her training (and) get mentorship with people who actually know what they’re talking about. We know this is safe and appropriate and (teaches) good technique.”
Lauren Paulson, ballet director and school administrator, leads the virtual class, by herself, in the company’s studio at the Grand Cities Mall. Students, who are in their own homes, join the class through Zoom, a group-meeting computer application.
“(Paulson) is the brains behind all of this,” Arnason said. “She dove in and got this all up in a week.”
In class sessions, teachers choose dances that kids can do safely at home, no big jumps or leaps, Arnason said.
Some of the movements include strengthening and toning exercise. And some sessions are geared to “follow-along games” or storybook ballet, she said.
Meanwhile, Ginny Hutton, who normally spends 25 hours a week in dance class, is taking an online class every chance she gets -- whether it’s tap, jazz, contemporary or modern dance.
Some classes have attracted as many as 16 students, said Ginny, an eighth-grader at Schroeder Middle School. “Most of them are 13 years old plus.”
Because of her age and skill level, she needs less “hands-on” instruction, whereby the teacher may position a limb, the hand or foot to convey proper form or movement.
Learning dance moves online was a whole new proposition, according to Ginny.
“It was a little bit of a struggle at first, but older dancers have knowledge of body placement and muscle memory,” she said. “At my level, we practice what we already know (about) balance and weight distribution. It’s a new experience, though, we’re so used to being in the studio with the teacher.
“It’s cool to see younger kids joining,” Ginny said. “More than half of the classes are made up of them.”
She’s anxious to continue to compete in dance -- both as a soloist and as part of a group, she said.
“I do lyrical, contemporary or jazz dance and musical theater -- which is very dramatic, that’s my favorite. It’s fun because you get to interact with the audience," said Ginny, who was cast as Captain Hook in the company’s now-postponed production, “Peter Pan.”
Kids stay connected
And it’s been fun and gratifying to see how much students enjoy coming together to learn or practice dance moves online, Arnason said.
“We really have seen so many great things,” she said. “Kids are staying connected; they’re feeling a sense of normalcy to see their dance stories, and it gives them an outlet during the day.”
Even children as young as 3 and 4 years old are taking classes.
“We’ve been getting little messages and pictures -- like, they put on their tutus and they come in and take class in their living room," Arnason said. “We get pictures on our Facebook site, and there’ll be this little 3-year kid in her pink tutu, giving a curtsy to thank the teacher for class -- just adorable.
“It makes me forget, for one minute, everything that’s happening around us,” Arnason said. “We’re hoping, by trying to do this with our kids and community and families, that they can feel that, too. They can get connected, too.
“Like one dancer said, it’s one piece of normalcy in her life right now.”