Even with many of their businesses on hold, dancewear makers, studios and stores are doing what they can to help during COVID-19.
One of the beautiful things to occur during a crisis is the innate human desire to help or volunteer. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the dance industry especially hard, as government-issued mandates caused “nonessential” businesses to temporarily shutter their doors. However, that hasn’t stopped teachers, studios, retailers, ballet companies, and dancewear and costume designers from finding creative ways to use the capabilities and resources of their businesses to help keep the virus from spreading.
Holding Dance Class Fundraisers
Alea de Castro is the artistic director and co-founder of Moov Ottawa Dance, in Ontario, Canada, and she’s a registered nurse at The Ottawa Hospital. Her studio offered donation-based online classes in waacking, hip hop, breaking and house that are now available on its Facebook page, with all funds going to the hospital and its COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. The public and street-dance community have been supportive, even donating on days when classes aren’t scheduled. As of April 21, the studio has raised $2,412 of its $3,000 goal.
“As soon as my work schedule changed due to the pandemic in mid-March, I knew it was getting serious, de Castro says, adding that she’s now working almost full-time at the screening centers. “I want to give back to our community while supporting our frontline staff at The Ottawa Hospital, and the best way I know is through dance.”
DIA Dance Studio of Cary, NC, held three donation-based classes (urban, hip hop and K-Pop) in early April and raised $526 for the local food bank and the NC Artist Relief Fund. “As a local business, we understand how hard COVID-19 is impacting everyone,” founder and owner Jessica Lujing Suo says. Originally from China, she has tracked news about the virus since it first broke out in Wuhan. “It’s hard for local small businesses to survive this pandemic, and we as individuals should do our best to support our local businesses and community.”
Sometimes a small gesture can make an impact. An adult dancer friend of Ruthena Fink called her in March when she couldn’t find elastic in stores or online for the masks she was making to donate to a local assisted-living facility. Fink owns Grand Jeté, a dance retail shop in St. Paul, MN, and the friend wanted to know if she had any pointe shoe elastic in stock.
Fink donated $50 worth of elastic to her friend and other sewers who were making masks for others. “If you do have elastic, it is very much in demand, even now,” she says, adding that half-inch strips can be cut lengthwise in half—both for comfort around the ears and to make the elastic go further. “I’m happy that my friend was able to think of a dancewear store, and it makes me feel good that people are doing their part during this quarantine. This is a small way that dance retailers can help out.”
Many dancewear and costume manufacturers saw orders screech to a halt in March once the stay-at-home mandates began. Some have taken the opportunity to transform their factories into mask-making facilities.
Eurotard Dancewear, for example, temporarily closed its Alpharetta, GA, production facility at the end of March, but days later, Gov. Brian Kemp issued a request to Georgia’s businesses: Help produce critical personal protective equipment needed by health-care workers. “We began reaching out to a few local hospitals to see what their needs were,” says Mia Burdette, director of consumer affairs. “We had the materials, the resources and the people.”
The most dire need? Masks.
Within 24 hours, Eurotard had the product concept, design, production, marketing and sales ready for its reusable cotton mask, which has a flexible wire at the bridge of the nose. The company is producing them for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the general public can purchase them online through dance retailers.
A Wish Come True, a costume manufacturer based in Bristol, PA, closed on March 23, but applied for an exemption to reopen as an essential business so it could make masks for the medical community.
By April 1, it was open and working with materials it already had on hand, and it has already donated thousands of masks to local hospitals. “We already had a large amount of breathable and neutral-colored fabric. As you can imagine, neutral is not our go-to color palette,” says marketing director Renée Stojek, “so it was very fortunate that we had fabric in inventory.”
Brian Stevens, co-owner of Artistic Dance Designs of Bedford, TX, decided to focus on raising donations from individuals, dance teachers and Dupree Dance Convention to support the creation and donation of masks.
So far, the company has donated 400 masks to retirement centers, nursing homes and local service industries. “We had so many requests to start selling our masks that we quickly increased our production to help individuals who wanted to purchase them for their own protection,” co-owner Paula Stevens says.
And Denver, CO–based Luckyleo Dancewear recently launched three new product lines related to COVID-19: barrier masks, scrunchies and headbands. Every time a customer purchases a scrunchie or headband, Luckyleo donates a mask or a button headband—designed to reduce the irritation from the constant wear-and-tear of the N-95 elastic-behind-the-ear masks—to local health-care workers.
“We released our scrunchies and headbands on March 29 and have already received enough proceeds from the release to donate around 2,000 masks,” says Heather Walker, one of Luckyleo’s founders and designers. “Just a few short months ago, we never would have guessed that our whole team would be hard at work sewing masks, but we’re so thankful that our skills can be put to good use in the world we’re living in right now.”
Hannah Maria Hayes has an MA in dance education from NYU and has been writing for Dance Media publications since 2008.