by Taresa Schmidt
One year ago, parents were desperately, stressfully figuring out what to do with their children who were suddenly home from school and shut out of all of their activities. All this while also trying to keep them safe from the Corona Virus (remember when we called it that?).
In the midst of global uncertainty, Molly Johnson and the rest of the Stage Stars Dance and Acro staff got to work. “We met with our director and quickly decided our goal was to get in touch with our kids as soon as possible.” Within days Molly and her coworkers had created videos for self-guided dance classes for their students, focusing on easy warmup exercises and reviews of their dances for an upcoming recital. “It got us through the first week,” said Molly, “but we knew we needed to get them back in a classroom, whatever that meant.”
Molly teaches at Stage Stars Dance and Acro, a dance studio located in Hockessin, DE. Under the direction of Angela Craft, Stage Stars has become the area’s go-to studio for all ages of dancers with a range of experience, beginner to advanced. While a variety of dance genres are taught at the studio (located inside the Hockessin Athletic Club), the mission remains the same throughout – providing a positive experience for all dancers in a safe, nurturing, and fun environment.
Within the week, Stage Stars was inviting their dancers to participate in live, online classes. Molly and her peers knew their students needed normalcy and structure, but most of all, they needed their outlet. “Everything was taken away from them in an instant,” she said. ‘We knew they needed some normalcy. And honestly, we needed it as much as they did.”
In those early days of online learning, Molly focused on traditional warmups that students had performed in earlier in-person classes and tried to add fun, easy combos to keep students moving. But she quickly realized her students needed time to talk. “They had a lot to say and no one to say it to,” said Molly. “I built time into the beginning and end of my online classes so we could just talk to each other.”
By June 15, Stage Stars had a plan in place to get students back into their building safely. Masks, six-foot borders, thermometers, hand sanitizer…you name it, it was initiated. And it worked.
That was ten months ago, and ever since, Molly and her peers have been seeing their students in person, even though most of them weren’t able to return to their traditional school settings. So to many of her students, dance became everything…physical release, socialization, education, fun, and function.
“When I was a kid, dance was my safe space. It helped me build confidence, helped me become less shy, become a leader,” said Molly. “I see dance being all those things for my students. And now more than ever, I see dance giving them the structure and routine that they’ve lost from so many other aspects of their lives.”
So what are some of the most significant effects Molly has seen COVID 19 and our “new normal” have on her students? With a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology and Movement and a Master’s Degree in Biomechanics, Molly recognizes the effects of stress and anxiety on her students’ physical and emotional selves. She’s also seen an increase in posture issues, especially in her students ages 11 to 14. “With an increase in use and focus on technology, I’ve seen my students struggling with so many more back and neck issues. I see them being affected neuromuscularly, and because they are so young, they can’t figure out what muscles to activate to correct the problem.” In other words, their posture is affected due to the increased amount of time they’re spending on electronics, and it’s difficult for them to understand precisely how to move to change that.
Molly’s response to this issue has been to incorporate more back and neck strengthening exercises into her classes. “I’ve also tried to use different words to try to get them to understand how I want them to move. Simple muscle movements can really help correct their posture and alleviate the stress on their necks and shoulders and backs.”
Molly was also seeing a disconnect at times with her students. “Even when they were physically in class and physically away from electronic devices, their brains are still in their phones,” she observed. Her solution? Meet them halfway.
“I want to be able to relate to them while keeping them growing and moving, so sometimes with my teenage students, I use technology as a reinforcement. If they have a great class, if they really focus and we achieve something together, then we make a Tik Tok video together. It’s a fun way to reward them – to do it together.”
Molly and her peers at Stage Stars Dance and Acro have spent the last year focusing on our children’s emotional, physical and social needs. If there’s anything Molly feels parents should know, it’s that their kids are resilient, adaptable, and always in need of outlets to express themselves. “Being active helps your children mentally. Encourage them to move more at home. I know that’s challenging for many families as home has become a school, an office, and so many more things, but every little bit helps. I encourage families to schedule short breaks throughout the day – times when they can participate with their children in movement. Take a short walk, have a dance party, do five minutes of stretching. Anything you can to get them moving will help them deal with stress and will increase their productivity.”
“We’re not built to sit,” Molly adds. “We’re meant to move.”