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Tape on the floor helps dancers remain six feet apart on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020 at Center Stage Dance Studio in Battle Creek, Mich.

Battle Creek Enquirer

Polly Loppnow was absolutely bubbly as she described what it was like to be back in a dance studio on Tuesday.

“I just love dance where I can express my emotions through movement and make people feel what I’m feeling,” the 12-year-old said during her acrobat and improv class. “And I just like being able to learn new things during dance, and I grow each year with something new.”

Loppnow is among the students at Center Stage Dance Studio in Emmett Township who began the 2020-21 dance season on Sept. 14 following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order that reopened gyms and organized sports in Michigan.

Polly Loppnow, 12, wears a facemask to an acrobatic and improvisation class on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020 at Center Stage Dance Studio in Battle Creek, Mich.  (Photo: Alyssa Keown | The Battle Creek Enquirer)

Elsewhere in Battle Creek, Shari Rarick School of Dance, Dance In Motion and In His Steps Christian Dance Studio were among dance studios that have opened their doors and are registering students for fall classes.

The opportunity to dance comes with added stipulations in light of the pandemic, such as mandatory mask wearing, temperature checks and social distancing. 

For Center Stage owner and director Lisa DuBois, it’s a welcome change. Her close-contact business has faced unprecedented challenges in 2020.

“I think we worked harder than ever in the 36 years just trying to keep things going,” she said. “We have really good parents who have been very supportive through all of this, and we could not have made it through this without them. They’ve done a lot to help us stay here and help keep these kids moving.”

Center Stage began offering virtual instruction via YouTube and Zoom and as well as outdoor classes for company dancers after the pandemic resulted in a mandatory closure of building. The studio held its 35th annual recital this summer, renting out an open-air barn where dancers performed for a camera in groups over a weeklong span.

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“I had a lot of fun doing that. I was just very happy to be able to do dance at home, even though it might not be what I expected at dance,” Loppnow said. “I’m just happy I get to see my friends and dance with them and I get to dance on real floor and not carpet.”

Center Stage is helping students with their school work by way of a new tutoring program.The studio is open from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. each weekday for students in 1st through sixth grades. They sit at opposite ends of six-foot-long tables, with a limit of eight students per classroom. Included in the daily schedule is a 45-minute dance or fitness class and “brain breaks” during which they listen to music, do yoga or go outdoors.

Dancers are required to do a prescreening and temperature check before they enter the building, and have to wear a mask at all times, save for getting a drink of water. They sanitize before entering one of the three classrooms, where ballet barres have been removed and six-foot squares mark the floor to help in maintaining social distancing. Class sizes have been reduced, and classes are shorter so the staff has time to sanitize between groups.

The studio also doesn’t allow parents in the building, but they can watch from their vehicles or at home after new cameras and televisions were installed this summer.

There are some exceptions to the no-parent rule. Patrick Moore, for instance, was tapped to come in to help his 3-year-old daughter, McKenzi, who was suffering a bout of separation anxiety. He wore a mask as he stood outside the classroom and watched his daughter through the window. 

“Last week I was in the room, so we’re making progress,” he said. “She loves doing it, but obviously the separation from being home 24/7 for the last six months.”

Moore and his wife wanted the discipline the studio can offer for their two daughters, and “there’s the socialization of it,” he added, “Coming here where they can have that kid-to-kid interaction is really good.

“We really haven’t had any concerns as far as safety with coming back. Obviously they did a great job last year, once everything hit, doing the video through Zoom. We’ve never had any type of concerns about what would happen and whether or not it was the right thing or not. Our big concern was whether she could come back and stick it out and participate without being too shy,” he said.

DuBois said she was painfully shy herself when her mother signed her up for dance at age 6 based on a doctor’s recommendation.

“I cried for a whole year,” she recalled with a laugh. “The doctor made my mom stick it out for a year and after that, I was hooked.”

For DuBois, that connection to dance and the confidence it inspired came from relationships with people in the dance community. She’s not taking for granted the opportunity to foster those connections now that students are back in the studio.

“For us to be back, it settles our hearts. We’ve been doing this for so many years, this is where my home is,” she said. “When we’re not with the kids, even when we were doing Zoom and YouTube, we did our best and we tried to engage with them… Now to have them here, it’s nice to be able to laugh with them and joke with them.”

Nick Buckley can be reached at nbuckley@battlecreekenquirer.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley

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