Dancers at Dance Expressions work on routines for an outdoor recital.

Dancers at Dance Expressions work on routines for an outdoor recital.

Photo provided by Sheryl Einhardt

St. Clair Shores dance studios move classes, recitals outdoors

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 21, 2020

 Students at Casali School of Dance participate in outdoor dance classes.

Students at Casali School of Dance participate in outdoor dance classes.

Photo provided by Anna Casali


ST. CLAIR SHORES — The novel coronavirus has shut schools, bars, gyms and more, keeping people away from each other for months at a time.

Coming to Michigan when it did, in mid-March, it also hastened the end of the season for hundreds of students at local dance studios.

Like some local gyms and fitness trainers, some of the local dance studios moved classes online.

“When we got closed in March, we moved our full schedule online,” said Anna Casali, owner of Casali School of Dance, 23011 9-Mack Drive. “If you came in Tuesday at 4:30, your schedule was Tuesday at 4:30 in a Zoom. We still taught. We ran till the end of June and we also did other things” like online dance parties and story time.

“Of course, we could not have a recital,” she added.

That didn’t stop Casali and some other local studios, however. While it frustrates her to see some studios and gyms allowing customers indoors in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order, which doesn’t allow indoor fitness facilities to open until Phase 5, she said she feels it’s important to do what is required. Metro Detroit is still in Phase 4 of reopening, as of press time Aug. 21.

“There’s a group that’s decided to open and a group of us that haven’t,” Casali said. “For us, we’re not because I just feel like when you’re teaching children, I think it’s important that, as adults, we are following rules.

“I feel like if we’re not supposed to open, we’re not going to open, we’re going to figure out what we’re going to do instead.”

Sheryl Einhardt, the owner of Dance Expressions, 27421 Harper Ave., agrees that watching other businesses go against government orders is “frustrating, but I take the philosophy of, I’ll do me and you do you.”

“I try to do the right thing and be as adamant as I can with following the regulations,” she continued. “I’d like to be inside, too, but I want to keep everybody safe, keep our children safe.”

The owners say they have worked to creatively return to lessons, while abiding by shutdown orders.

Casali was set to hold the studio’s 40th recital outdoors at Veterans Memorial Park Aug. 21, after press time, for those who still wished to participate. Dance Expressions plans to hold its recital outdoors in its parking lot Sept. 12.

Casali said her studio’s production is not the same full show it would have been in June, and she’s splitting dancers into two groups to allow for smaller crowds.

“Right now, I have a tent and vinyl flooring set up in my parking lot,” she said. “All our rehearsals are outside.

“Our plans for September (are), we are accepting registration (but) everything will be outside until we can get permission into the studio again.”

At Dance Expressions, Einhardt said dancers have been honing their skills in classes on Marley flooring under tents, when necessary, in the parking lot.

“We’ve been really lucky because the weather has been very beautiful,” she said. “We don’t require the kids to wear masks outdoors, but we let everybody make that decision for themselves.”

Maintaining social distancing is an ongoing issue, she said.

“Teenagers are teenagers. I’m like, ‘Get away from each other!’” she said.

The summer session has been a continuation of the season that Dance Expressions wasn’t able to finish in June, she said. Nevertheless, only about 40 of her 150 students have returned, making it a challenge for the 30-year-old business.

“My landlords have been wonderful working (with) us,” she said, adding that she has applied for loans and grants to stay in business.

“I’m hoping we can open up in the fall and we’ll require masks, of course. I have parents that are willing to dance inside and I have parents that have pulled their kids completely,” she said. “We are planning to offer Zoom if we can’t open (indoors).

“That’s when things get scary because we can only survive so long on a loan that we have to pay back.”

At Casali School of Dance, the plan is to have lessons this fall outside as long as the weather will allow. If the area hasn’t moved into Phase 5 by then, the studio plans to transition back to Zoom lessons.

“It’s all about how the parents set up the Zoom to make it the best beneficial for the students,” she said.

Casali doesn’t plan to begin the new year’s lessons until after Sept. 15 to see what phase of reopening the state is in at that point.

“It just seems that there are so many of us that want to follow the rules and so many that chose not to,” she said. “I know some people chose to do inside, that’s their business.”

She said she reached out to all the local dance studios so they could come to a consensus of how to operate, but only a few others shared her beliefs.

“We want to be part of the community and part of the problem solving,” Casali said.

Still, she said she is worried about how many of her dancers will return to class if they are held virtually.

“We know that kids are not going to want to be in school virtually and then want to sit and be virtually in dance,” she said.

Einhardt said that was her experience when they tried virtual classes in the spring.

“I think the kids were pretty much burned out from Zoom from school,” she said.

But some students, Casali said, really enjoyed the connection.

“I had parents say to me, when they came out of dance, they were great,” she said. “It shows you we have to be creative as educators.”

Flexibility is key, Einhardt said.

“When somebody asks me a question, I try to answer it as best as I can,” she said. “My parents are aware of it, and I believe that everybody that’s back (is) willing to be flexible and go with the flow.”