A group of dance studio owners, including Allegro Performing Arts Academy in Kent, wants the state to allow them to reopen for indoor instruction.
“We are seeing first-hand how important dance and self-expression have been a form of therapy for all of our students right now,” said Tonya Marie Warren Goodwillie, owner of Allegro, in a Tuesday, Jan. 5 press release from several studio owners. “Our industry is not officially deemed ‘essential’ by the state, but it is essential for the well-being and mental health of our youth during this difficult time.”
Dance studio owners are struggling with state mandates and closures in order to meet the needs of their dancers and to have their businesses survive through this pandemic. The newest mandates in November (and extened through at least Jan. 11) require dance studios to close and no longer offer in-building instruction, guidance and mentoring.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday, Jan. 5 lifted the ban starting Jan. 11 under new guidelines.
Indoor fitness and outdoor entertainment, for example, were both previously prohibited, but will now be permitted with restrictions, according to the Governor’s Office.
Currently, all indoor fitness is entirely prohibited. The state Department of Health now believes that the state can safely allow appointment-based fitness and training where there is no more than 1 customer per room or 500 square feet for large facilities. This will allow gyms to schedule people wanting to come in to work out in a safe way to ensure activity during winter months. Masks and physical distancing are required.
The arts/entertainment/recreation industries accounts for 1% or less of the total number of cases in the state, according to a state Department of Health and state Department of Labor & Industries Nov. 10 report, according to the press release.
Dance studios provide an essential outlet to the youth, teens and young adults who need an outlet for their physical, mental and emotional health, the owners said. Studio owners said they have gone above and beyond the state mandates for in-building instruction, because the health and safety of their staff, instructors and dancers is a top priority.
Dance studios have safety regulations in place, like temperature checks at the door, hand sanitizing stations that all staff and dancers use upon entrance and exit. Separate entrances are used for entering and exiting or they have introduced staggered start/stop times for their schedule, according to the press release.
Studio owners have installed Level 13 MERV filters in their buildings and deep clean between each class. Dancers and staff socially distance 6 feet apart, wear masks, and class sizes are kept to five dancers per room unless square footage allows for more. These safety precautions have allowed studio owners to provide a safe environment for their staff and dancers.
With a set schedule, studio owners know exactly who is in the building and in each dance room. This is different than the model of a gym or fitness center, the owners said. The dance studio model allows for a very controlled environment which provides added safety.
Dance studio owners said they feel it is safe to remain open following all of the safety regulations in place and the future of their businesses depend upon it. Many studio owners have applied for grants and loans but have fallen short of funding to allow their business to survive and provide an income for themselves and their staff. Most studios have seen a 30-50% drop in enrollment and have no means to recoup the lost income.
These mandates for studios to remain closed not only affects the well- being of the dancers now but if studios cannot sustain their businesses, they will not be there for the youth, teens and young adults in the future, according to the owners, who said that will be the biggest loss for the community.
“I know without any doubt that Allegro is the safest place my daughter could possibly be,” said Leigh Ann, mother of a student attending Allegro Performing Arts Academy, in the press release. “It has been integral in her ability to cope with significant distress caused by current events. It is her only source of human interaction outside our family. She told me yesterday that it is her ‘happy place.’”
Ian Howe, owner of Pacific West Performing Arts with locations in Snohomish and Lake Stevens, is leading the drive to let dance studios reopen.
The group also has started an online petition that it wants supporters to sign to draw attention to their efforts to open.