Dance studio

Hamden Dance Studio turns to Zoom during the pandemic

HAMDEN, CT – Entering the world of dance at age 2, Janet Bracale has lived her entire life with an abiding love of dance and a desire to spread and teach that love.

“As I was doing my dance classes and conventions and getting into college, I just wanted to keep dancing,” Bracale said.

Even if there were detours – working as a legal assistant, for example – she never let go of the dream. Eventually, she decided to go all out.

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“It was hard to do both, so I loved the kids – I still love them – and I wanted to continue my passion with them, so that’s when I said, ‘I’m going to open a dance school ‘” Bracale said. “And now it’s 40 years later. It’s our 40th anniversary. That’s how it all started.”

Now Dance Unlimited has two locations – one in Hamden and one in Branford – fostering an environment that brings students into the world of teaching dance and choreography.

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“Students who grow up with me from the age of two, as they get older, start to join me and become part of my team,” Bracale said. “Which is the best way because they know my philosophy and they know the heart of Dance Unlimited.”

As the first hints of COVID-19 appeared on the horizon, Bracale sprang into action, studying Zoom and preparing studios for the possibility of a virtual environment.

“We had meetings on Zoom; we had meetings on safer studios; we had meetings on the electronic and computerized systems that we needed in our studios in order to broadcast all of the Zoom classes,” Bracale said. . “We have eight dance halls between the two studios – we ended up buying eight digital thermometers; eight big-screen TVs; we bought an air purification system; we marked our floors in six-foot blocks. “

Part of this COVID preparedness process involved upgrading their computer programming for their recording system and having the fire marshal look at the new socially distanced studio setup, to redefine capabilities.

And thanks to a blissful building design, the hall mix was completely cut – with entrances and exits for each individual dance hall, students and their parents remained isolated from other classes.

“The kids came in – the parents didn’t come in – as soon as they came in we took their temperature and they found their chair. They had their little dance bag with water and their shoes, and that’s it. was everything,” Bracale said. . “At the end of the course, we disinfect the chairs, we disinfect the floor. Masks, everyone masks, still to this day. When we come back in the fall, we will require them even if you are vaccinated — we have so many little ones who don’t have the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

“In a year and a few months, I think we’ve had maybe four cases, five cases, studio-wide,” Bracale added, “which is a testament to everything we’ve done, and the parents at the listening; keeping their kids home if they weren’t feeling well, communicating and being honest. With the dance world, it was dark. Before we could go into the studio in June, it was hard for them .

With its strong virtual setup, Dance Unlimited provided a significant outlet throughout the toughest day of the pandemic that overwhelmed its students.

“My older kids, some of their brothers were taking our stretching classes. They couldn’t do sports – there was nothing offered for the boys,” Bracale said. “We had a father-daughter battle once; we had a sibling contest. We just carried on for them. I feel like we were their lifeline.”

For Bracale, the most important thing was to strengthen their bond with the students.

“Just a lot of ingenuity and a lot of connection with them, because we were the only ones they had,” Bracale said. “Just lift them up, make them laugh – we wanted to cry, but when they’re on, we’re like ‘hey, it’s going to be okay!’ We’re just trying to keep their lives alive.”

Now, after many students returned to in-person classes in January, the studio is largely in-person, albeit with security restrictions, but Zoom classes remain in use.

“I have a lot of kids. I care about the kids, and right now they can’t get vaccinated,” Bracale said. “I just want them to be as safe as possible. At the moment we are open, but we still offer Zoom.”

And while Zoom has its inherent limitations, Bracale sees it as a permanent option – if someone feels sick or can’t dance, they can attend a Zoom class anytime online and always, at the very least. , studying choreography.

Despite the ingenuity and commitment Dance Unlimited has fostered, the pandemic has hit the studio hard.

“To continue – I have 25 employees and I’ve never fired anyone. And they stepped up, from day one,” Bracale said. “We had to take out a lot of loans. You do what you do. As a company, we did what we did to keep the kids working and the employees keeping working.”

Still, Bracale has hope for the future.

“In January the phone started ringing. We had a good percentage of kids coming back in January,” Bracale said. “I saw the turnaround coming in January, so hopefully September will be just as good. They need an outlet, they need dancing. Dancing has saved a lot of these kids. Dancing does wonders for their mental and physical being, body and soul, that’s what it’s all about.”