Jeanne Szkolka, owner of Columbia Dance Academy, knows what it’s like to lose her nearest and dearest. Her father, her best friend and a woman who was like her second mother all died within the past few years.
But Szkolka says she’s learning to deal with grief by channeling it into teaching and choreographing. “I am even more aware of the moments that I have with my [students],” she says. “Especially because they grow older, and they leave me, and that’s always happened, and I need to get as many things said and as many things done as I possibly can before it’s too late.”
Szkolka founded CDA in 1996. Typically, the academy has 185 to 200 students at any given time. But when classes moved to Zoom in March, that number dropped below 100. CDA offered online-only classes until it reopened with limited enrollment in June. The disruption meant Szkolka needed a loan from the Small Business Administration. It was the first time in 25 years she had to apply for financial help.
Events called off, performers laid off
The Missouri Contemporary Ballet also needed financial assistance through a payment protection program loan. Its revenue and student enrollment has plummeted during the pandemic, says Karen Maverick Grundy, executive and artistic director.
MCB has nine professional dancers, some of whom teach part-time at the company’s dance school. The dancers were laid off as performances, events and fundraisers got nixed. Grundy says the hardest part was breaking the news to the performers.
Elise Mosbacher has been working as a dancer with MCB for 11 years. Dancers don’t do it for the money, she says. Their unwavering perseverance stems from their ardent passion for dance.“Financially, emotionally and physically, you know, kind of just everything got taken away from us,” she says. “Unfortunately, it’s hard for us to just get other jobs.”
Mosbacher and others are still teaching classes at the company school, which has helped them earn side income, but they have not been paid as dancers since March, Mosbacher says.
Try to Zoom with 3-year-olds
When the lockdown began in March, students and dance instructors had to pirouette to virtual classes. Szkolka remembers her first Zoom class: being alone in the studio, leaning into a screen and squinting to see if students were following. Some students had bad lighting; others had screens tilted down.
“I felt like I just did not do what I wanted to do,” Szkolka says. “And I cried so hard that day because I didn’t have my kids in my studio with me.”
There were also plenty of distractions. Some kids would want to show their cats or disappear from the screen to get a snack. But a positive aspect is that the smaller classes allowed Szkolka and the other three teachers to give each child more attention.
Although the annual Dancing with Missouri Stars event was canceled, MCB livestreamed a virtual event in July that was also shown on a big screen at Logboat Brewery.
And Grundy choreographed a piece for a short film, Naissance. It premiered at Logboat and can be purchased online. “I took each of my dancers out in seven locations throughout Columbia and videoed them doing the movements I created,” she says.
MCB and CDA have begun in-person, socially distant classes and are eager to have their dancers perform in theaters again. MCB dancers are now preparing for performances scheduled in April.
Szkolka is planning a trip to Disneyland with her students in 2022, where they will be able to showcase their dance. “I think that that will give my kiddos something to look forward to,” Szkolka says.