When government officials mandated the closure of nonessential businesses in March, most business owners met the news with panic but Erin Lopez, artistic director and owner of Variations, a dancer’s studio in Huntington, took it in stride.
That's because Lopez, after having heard stories of how some European nations had been hard-hit by the pandemic, immediately started taking steps to "go virtual."
By the time the closures were announced, she'd already set up classes on videoconferencing platform Zoom "so students wouldn't have to miss a single lesson."
Lopez, who, with husband John, has run the home-based studio for 23 years, also took other measures to keep the business moving during the shutdown, turning its yearly dance showcase — usually held in a theater — into a socially distanced, front lawn performance, and marketing dance lessons as an extracurricular activity for children gathering in small groups, known as "learning pods."
Erin Lopez, who resumed in-person lessons at her studio on Sept. 14, spoke with Newsday about the moves. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
In the months after the shutdown, we've seen many entrepreneurs turn to Zoom as a way to keep their businesses going. What gave you the foresight to set up virtual dance lessons so early on?
I have relatives in Spain who told me how bad the situation with COVID-19 was over there, with people getting severely ill and businesses forced to shut down . . . that was before things got really bad in New York and it got me thinking the same thing would eventually happen here. I immediately started to prepare and research videoconferencing platforms. Our last day in the studio was March 13, by the very next day we were ready to roll with virtual dance lessons on Zoom. It was all seamless.. . . Necessity is the mother of invention and, one way or the other, the show must go on!
Your studio's yearly dance showcase is usually held in a theater, but this year because of the pandemic all theaters were closed. How did you go about hosting the performance and what changes did you make to ensure a COVID-safe event?
Finding a venue was practically impossible. And we quickly realized just how difficult it would've been to safely accommodate the amount of people usually in attendance at our showcases in an indoor space. With performers alone, we were already at 90 . . . so, we started brainstorming and came up with the idea of building an outdoor stage on our front lawn, with floor markers to ensure enough distance between performers. We required eventgoers to wear masks, and asked guests to watch the show from their cars, drive-in style, or from the lawn, standing at least 6 feet apart from others.
What other steps have you taken to foster the growth of your business?
We've used social media to promote our [in-person dance] lessons as an extracurricular activity for children, participating in learning pods. Because of the ongoing pandemic, many parents are wary of traditional school settings and are resorting to these learning pods as a safer alternative, however, children still need instruction in the arts . . . they need to move, they need to dance . . . parents don't want their kids to miss out on that. That's where we come in. Right now, we teach beginner's ballet to four preschool-aged girls, in a learning pod in Huntington, and are in talks with another client interested in hiring us to provide lessons for a learning pod she's organizing in her backyard. This is an area where I see an opportunity for growth, especially now that so many children are involved in virtual school, home-school, or a mix of online and in-person education.