New Hamburg’s Centre stage “keeping fingers crossed” for recital

Postponed recital rests on Province’s regulations

  • Arts   Wed, May 26th, 2021   Rose Danen
Pre-lock down rehearsal contrasts to the online, Zoom lessons that Donna Bender has pivoted to in order to prepare her dancers for the year-end recital. (Photo courtesy of Donna Bender)

Pre-lock down rehearsal contrasts to the online, Zoom lessons that Donna Bender has pivoted to in order to prepare her dancers for the year-end recital. (Photo courtesy of Donna Bender)

After months of virtual dance classes, New Hamburg’s Centre Stage Dance Studio is trying to stay positive after postponing their dance recital until after the end of the extended lockdown.
“Fingers crossed that we’ll still be able to do this. I’m just trying my best to bring joy to the students and to the families,” said Donna Bender, dance teacher and owner of Centre Stage.
The annual dance recital was postponed from May 29 to June 26 after the provincial stay-at-home order was extended to June 2. The recital is the big year-end performance at the studio where all the students get to showcase what they’ve learned. Bender said it was important that it not get cancelled for the sake of the students.
“The recital is something that they all look forward to,” said Bender, “I’d really love to go out with a bang after last year, not being able to do any of it, because performance for the students is really important.”
Bender said the students have been working extra hard this year because the recital was outright cancelled last year during the first wave of the pandemic. The hope is that the stay-at-home order will be lifted on schedule so that Centre Stage can resume in-person classes and begin getting ready for the recital. While Centre Stage was able to do some in-person dance classes last summer and autumn when things began to open up, it was forced to revert back to virtual Zoom dance classes in the winter and spring during the second and third waves.
“Everything is a waiting game. Nobody knows what the next announcement will be and we just have to keep pivoting,” Bender said.
As the waiting game continues, Bender is trying to keep her students positive, and she’s hoping the recital will help.
“When I’m on my Zoom classes I’m continuing to say ‘keep praying’ and ‘keep those fingers crossed’ and ‘we are going to have a recital’ and trying to keep everyone positive.”
Bender said she can really see how the pandemic is negatively affecting her students.  When teaching students their improvisation dance skills, Bender will sometimes ask the students to use emotions as prompts.
“I asked the students this year for a couple of classes ‘give me an emotion’... and I was getting words like ‘anger,’ ‘frustration,’ ‘anxiety.’”
This is coming from students that Bender said usually use words like ‘joyful,’ ‘curious’ or ‘excited.’
“I realized they are all truly affected by all of this.”
Centre Stage has provided a space where the students can get physically active and see their friends, which is crucial in battling the effects of the pandemic, according to Bender.
“It’s great that they can dance it out and release it from their bodies,” said Bender.
When in-person classes are allowed, the studio has had to grapple with COVID-19 safety precautions.  Parents also have to fill out a COVID-19 screening questionnaire for their children no earlier than two hours before each class, otherwise they’re not allowed in the studio. Social distancing squares have been placed on the floors of the studio, and sanitation protocols are in place.
“We’re teaching all of the work, it’s just not being patterned necessarily and we’ve had to take out all of our partner work,” said Bender. “It has changed our choreography, but the kids are still learning and having fun, and that’s what’s really important.”
However, during the lockdowns, Centre Stage has faced more challenges.
“During lockdowns, we’ve had to revert to Zoom classes which is challenging,” said Bender. “A lot of people decided they would just see us next year.”
Centre Stage has seen a decline in registrations by more than half their normal numbers. This has led to some financial struggles.
“That’s why I’m so thankful and grateful for those who are still continuing with us because it is right now about fighting to stay in business,” said Bender.
Bender said that it’s helped that her landlord has been very understanding about rent.
 “We’re hanging in there.”
Aside from the recital, the studio is also looking for opportunities for their crew team to perform while abiding by COVID-19 restrictions, whatever that may look like.
“That’s a big thing for the kids because they love to perform and they love to give back to the community. So we are still looking for performance opportunities even under these circumstances.”
Whatever the pandemic throws at the studio, Bender said she is so proud of her students for persevering through everything.
“They are little heroes in my eyes for staying committed to being online with us. It’s not easy.”