Here’s How Entrepreneurial Thinking Worked for One Dance Teacher During COVID-19

Like it or not, if you are a freelance dance artist or educator, you own and manage a small business. Here’s how one solopreneur stepped up his game to preserve income when schools closed in March.

Barry Kerollis, teaching a class at Broadway Dance Center in NYC.
The author, teaching at Broadway Dance Center in NYC before COVID-19 closure. Courtesy of Kerollis

If you told me a month ago I would be forcibly holed up in my apartment as I led my first classes as a master teacher with Youth America Grand Prix, I might have looked at you like you had several heads. But when New York City began shutting down at breakneck speed, I knew I had to do something to protect my income. I dug deep into my toolbox and began developing online classes.

Target Your Audience

My first consideration was my prospective audience. I teach ballet to a range of students at Broadway Dance Center and contemporary master classes as a guest artist for pre-professional ballet students across the country.

Barry Kerollis, teaching a master class for dancers of LimeLitez Dance Academy, who are at the barre, facing him.
Teaching a master class for dancers of LimeLitez Dance Academy, visiting from Alberta, Canada. Courtesy of LimeLitez

I noted that a majority of the free livestreams were being taught at a company class level. This meant my community of professionals were mostly taken care of at no cost to them. Many tuition-based programs also quickly rallied to continue training their pupils via applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype. Yet students without full-time studio affiliations and those who might want some flexibility from scheduled livestreams had not yet been taken into account. That group is who I decided to address.

Develop Your Product

Next up, it was time to build class content. I decided to build classes for others like me living in small spaces. I focused on developing home barre and conditioning classes and decided to make them available online for longer than the 24-hour expiration of most livestreams. I also added stationary center exercises for those with more space.

From there, I pulled out my trusty Canon 70D (though an iPhone camera also suffices), set up a tripod in my sixth-floor apartment entryway and began filming myself executing combinations holding onto a doorknob.

Screen of Barry Kerollis online dance class called Int/Adv Ballet Home Barre & Conditioning Exercises.

Each segment starts with a verbal and visual explanation of the exercise followed by nuggets of guidance. Then, I turn on music using the Anytune app on my iPad and record myself performing the exercise.

While I am proud to say I have kept up taking class with Nancy Bielski at Steps on Broadway since retiring from performing in 2016, it has been a humbling experience dusting off my own technique to perform for an audience again. There is a certain comfort in studio teaching, where one gets to pick and choose when they show steps versus conveying information through marking or hand gestures.

Generate Inventory

screen of Basic Ballet Home Barre Class, taught by Barry Kerollis, with Kerollis demonstrating.

I filmed all of the exercises in mini-segments to streamline the editing process. The next step was to splice the clips together into a cohesive hour-long video. I have significant experience with Final Cut Pro, but got my start using the free iMovie app that comes on most Apple products. This time-consuming task involved cutting out extraneous footage and bloopers, adding titles and transitions, and preparing a master file to upload to YouTube. YouTube tutorials are very helpful with this step.

It took me about two to three hours to edit and a little over an hour to upload to the site. It is important to note that I had to verify my account to upload lengthier content, a simple task requiring my phone number for a verification code. Altogether, it took about six hours for content to go live from concept to upload.

Market Your Services

The response has been overwhelming.I used social media and my mailing list to let people in my personal dance community know about my new content. Current offerings consist of classes in Basic Ballet (two series), Intermediate/Advanced Ballet (two series), Basic Contemporary, and Intermediate/Advanced Contemporary. To date, I have received more 100 requests from dancers living as far away as Japan and Italy.

Rather than setting a required fee, I decided to ask for a recommended donation of $12 to receive a link to a class. I know personally what it feels like to watch a depleting bank account, so I didn’t want to leave those out who are facing financial stress similar to my own. I have also received donations that generously exceed the recommended amount, including one from a school that requested a link to share with their entire student body. I am so grateful for this generosity—it will help me get through this period.

The Bottom Line

These donations have been integral to my survival over the past few weeks while I wait to hear about unemployment benefits. I’ve also pulled funds from my savings to cover bills and put food on my table.

I feel lucky to live in a time where we can be physically distant, yet so connected. Of course, nothing can replace in-studio instruction. But I have a strong feeling the dance world is embarking upon a new era of learning. I’ve never before had time to work on building a presence in digital dance education. Once we are released back into the world of in-studio training, I hope to continue to reach students who may not otherwise have access to my classroom.

Barry Kerollis is the artistic director of Movement Headquarters Ballet Company. He danced professionally with Pacific Northwest Ballet and Houston Ballet. He is on faculty at Broadway Dance Center, judges for Youth America Grand Prix and hosts the Pas de Chát: Talking Dance podcast.