When the pandemic hit NYC hard in mid-March, the nation and the rest of the world were forced to enter lockdown mode — not leaving one’s home outside of essential errands — and all in-person activities like performances, rehearsals, and classes of any kind became forbidden. Always thinking on their toes, some in the dance and fitness communities who rely on teaching as their primary or supplementary source of income had to do a sharp pivot and swap taking the subway to classes to setting up Zoom on their laptops, and exchange studio space for their living rooms. The benefit was there became a demand from captive audiences looking for ways to stay fit and enjoy a happy diversion while being stuck inside. The drawback was that instructors used to engaging with participants physically were suddenly forced to navigate the uncharted territory of a virtual classroom. Months later, the lockdown has been lifted. However, person-to-person classes are still prohibited or extremely limited in most places across the USA, including NYC. Even schools and universities have turned to remote and online learning as the best and safest bet. But with thousands of options out there, how does an instructor stand out and ensure a high-quality, engaging, fun experience amongst the sea of Zoom rooms?
ETD and ETD Outreach instructors made the transition to digital teaching (and performance) almost immediately to offset some of the losses from the in-person classes and shows that were canceled. ETD Outreach partners such as Lantern Community Services and Acacia Network opted to honor their commitments to clients and partners by offering virtual workshops. ETDO instructors began to offer weekly classes from Dancehall, Afro-Cuban, Imaginative Movement, and African Dance fused with HIIT cardio and abs conditioning. The latter course, dubbed “Live in the Moment: Afro Cardio Jam,” is created and taught by one of ETDO’s most popular instructors — Johari Mayfield. Johari is a New York City-based dancer, choreographer, activist, healer, and ACE certified personal trainer. She has been praised by clients and class attendees for her exuberant energy, intense yet playful workouts, and enormous heart. When Johari first moved to online instruction for Lantern Community’s Vimeo Channel, she described her experience with the new format:
The Challenges: “Dance is a communal art form that lives where we create relationships with one another. ‘How do I create a high touch, high trust experience built by being near other bodies through a computer?’ is a question I ask myself often.”
The Benefits: “Being at home has allowed me to create a studio in my space. A more harmonious live/workspace for me means my students are getting more energy from me. Let’s see what happens when we can meet in person again!”
Johari alchemically blends her background in personal training/coaching, healing, activism, performance, and choreography in various dance styles, then packs it all into a 30-minute weekly workshop every Friday at 4pm. She has amassed some helpful tips for success to instructors in the virtual world. Her advice is based upon the things she’s still learning and working on. Sometimes online workshops can feel twice the effort for half the reward, but they don’t have to be a chore. Plus, they can offer an opportunity for instructors to expand their reach beyond their usual in-person following. It’s worth making the best out of the digital experience because from the looks of things, we might be here for a while, and that’s no reason to stop moving, teaching, and sharing!
Johari Mayfield’s Seven Steps to Success for Instructors in a Virtual World:
High Energy: If you have great dynamism, they will follow. But if you have low energy, they will too. Survey the Zoom room and notice if anyone is lagging, offer encouragement to lift their spirits.
Accessibility: Make the movement accessible to all ages and levels. Be sure you understand how to keep the energy level up while breaking down a combination or demonstrating steps.
Hydration and Care: Make sure people have water. Give time for short breaks.
Lighting: Make sure the light is excellent. Overhead lighting can make things a little dark. Too bright can wash you out. Experiment and make it work for you so that they can see your whole body and facial expressions.
Background: Make sure the space is neat and clean, not too distracting but also expressive and professional. Turn your home into a studio that invites the attendees into the world of your class.
Clothing: Wear bright, vibrant colors, and be sure everything is fitted enough to be able to see your movements.
Make It Personal: Get to know people, ask how their day is going. You can’t get into any deep conversations if you have a large class, but try to have a few minutes for this and maybe space for questions about what they are learning. I also integrate tips for health and well being at the end of a class for participants to take something away such as, the benefits of houseplants for oxygen and beautifying your home or a reminder to eat something (preferably a bit salty) within 45 min after an intense workout. A personal touch builds relationships and loyalty. Give your attendees something to walk away with, and a reason to want to return!