Ballet academy

Bringing Ballet Back: Centralia Ballet Academy Opens and Expands Despite Pandemic

By Carrina Stanton / For the Chronicle

For Mick Gunter, pushing to reopen classes and experiences at Centralia Ballet Academy isn’t so much about profit as it is about people.

Gunter, who owns the dance studio with his wife, Nancy, said he felt the kids had already given up too much because of COVID-19. As the pandemic canceled shows and activities last spring, he said he’s become determined to get students back to their dance classes in the fall, if possible.

“They had the character-building experience of sacrificing themselves. They did a lot of that one,” he said. “Let’s use this as another character-building opportunity on how we can work through adversity and still do good things.”

But for the Gunters, it’s not just about surviving. It’s about thriving. While navigating a new normal brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Centralia Ballet is also working to expand its offering this year. Centralia Ballet is moving its main location to Curves’ former location in the Fairway Center in Centralia. Construction is still ongoing, but the plan is to open the new location on September 14.

The ballet school had been located at the downtown Centralia Bethel Church School of the Arts since 2015. Gunter said Bethel was expanding and needed more space, so in January the academy de ballet has been asked to find a new location by the end of the summer. For the rest of that period, the church promised the ballet studio that it could stay rent-free.

“Then COVID hit and I guess we got a little lucky,” Gunter said. “We closed all of our classes and went virtual and we would have really struggled without it.”

The COVID pandemic has brought many changes to the way Centralia Ballet offers dance lessons this year. The Gunters asked several medical professionals for advice on the safest way to reopen and drew inspiration from other successful local activities such as the TOAD Musical Theater Camp at the Evergreen Playhouse. Some of the changes to dance classes this year include: students wearing masks during class; students dancing inside squares on the floor to respect social distancing; temperature checks; deep disinfection on high touch points such as bars; and air purifiers added to all studios.

Nancy Gunter said social distancing has been one of the hardest changes for her because as a teacher she now has to rely on hands-on correction only when there is a risk of injury. Overall, she said, students took the changes in stride.

“Some of the protocols are different, but once you get started you get used to it,” she said. “(The dancers) adapt very well.”

The changes needed to meet social distancing norms have actually opened up new opportunities for the ballet school, Gunter noted. Previously, parents could sit in a waiting room during their child’s lesson and watch the lesson there on a television screen. Mick Gunter explained that the lessons will now each have private Facebook groups, where lessons will be streamed live so parents can watch from their cars.

“Also if anyone can do it because if you’re sick you have to stay home, they can always watch the course,” Mick Gunter said of the new offer. “This whole situation has made us get a little more resourceful with the technology.”

Centralia Ballet will also offer Zoom options for classes this year. The opportunity will be good for students and teachers who don’t feel comfortable being part of in-person classes, Mick Gunter noted, but will also give the dance studio the ability to bring in teachers they don’t. might not have been able to access in the past. . For example, one of their teachers this year will be Lisa Sundstrom, who also teaches ballet at Oregon Ballet Theater School. Gunter said he spent the last few summers teaching in New York, where he met some amazing dancers who offered to teach classes at Centralia Ballet, but the cost of airfare would have been prohibitive for the school. . But bringing them in via Zoom makes the effort much more profitable.

“So I think there will be opportunities for Masterclass-like experiences this year,” Gunter said. “We do everything we can with technology to make it accessible.”

Gunter said offering a ballet class via Zoom should be a much more immersive experience than just watching a teacher on a screen. They plan to have someone live in the classroom with the students with a handheld camera, allowing the teacher to see the students’ technique up close if needed. A dance teacher will also be present during Zoom classes to offer correction in person under the direction of the teacher remotely.

In addition to Centralia’s new location, earlier this year Centralia Ballet began renting the former Allen Creek Dance Studio off Rush Road in Napavine to offer classes to students there. This studio was the main hub for classes during the renovation of the new studio and offered them the opportunity to take classes outdoors this summer. The ballet school will also be offering lessons once a week at the Tiller Arts Center in Morton this year.

Centralia Ballet’s version of “The Nutcracker” will also be offered this year, but in a slightly different format. Mick Gunter said that because other performance opportunities had to be canceled this year, auditions for Centralia Ballet’s “Nutcracker” will be open to all dancers in the community, regardless of which dance school they attend. frequent. The performance will be filmed per scene, with social distancing and disinfection between scenes. The parts will then be assembled for full functionality which will be available for purchase or rental on Amazon Prime.

On December 20, they plan to offer a special “Nutcracker Night” where the production will be free to view. They are already working on a “Nutcracker Night” website where they plan to offer special activities and items for purchase. Gunter said they will appeal to anyone taking advantage of the free entertainment to order dinner at a local restaurant and consider donating the money they would normally spend on ‘Nutcracker’ tickets to a school. ballet or local arts organization, all of which have had to cancel events this year due to COVID-19.

“We want to make it a celebration of ‘yeah, this year has sucked, but let’s do something we can enjoy together,’ Mick Gunter said. “I think we can achieve something interesting and fun. “

Centralia Ballet is currently raising funds through GoFundMe, as well as the sale of t-shirts and face masks from its website, to help defray the cost of renovating the Fairway Center space and also to achieve their goal of providing tuition-free courses to all students for the first two months of classes. Mick Gunter said he and Nancy have pledged to give up their paychecks for the first two months of classes, so they only have to fundraise for rent and the salaries of their other employees to be able to reach this goal. An anonymous donor has offered to match the first $5,000 and Mick Gunter has also pledged proceeds from the sale of his book “Fritz and the Rat King” as well as his consultancy work for other ballet studios, on the construction of programs for male dancers, to cause.

“I know a lot of people are stressed out, so we want to make sure the kids can come back and dance,” Mick Gunter said.