The National Dance Institute New Mexico Dance Barns on Alto Street are empty and will remain so for at least as long as the community is all but shut down and social distancing mandates are in effect as practical measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“At NDI New Mexico, we’re three-quarters of the way through our year and normally would be starting to put the finishing touches on our performance that coincides with the end of the school year,” Russell Baker, NDINM’s executive director, said in a phone interview last week.
But there’s no dancing around it. The annual energetic and uplifting end-of-year galas at the NDINM Dance Barns, and the one they put on each year at the Hiland in Albuquerque, won’t be happening this year. Baker says it’s heartbreaking that the galas won’t happen and 500 kids who normally would have celebrated the culmination of a year’s worth of work in front of families and friends won’t have the chance to do so.
“So, now, we’re working through our public partnerships to maintain our classes and program, and rounding out what that experience will be for them,” he said.
Following the same life lessons they teach to the 8,400 students they work with in 34 communities across the state, NDINM vowed to do its best and not give up. And the result will be what NDINM is billing as its “first-ever Virtual Gala.”
They’re still working on just how that will be choreographed, but the show will go on as planned May 9, Baker said, “through the magic of Zoom, through the magic of YouTube Live and through the magic of editing.”
NDINM isn’t the only organization with a focus on youth enrichment that’s figuring out ways to adapt to the circumstances.
Similarly, the Santa Fe Youth Symphony is hoping to orchestrate an online end-of-year event to put a crescendo on its season.
“An online event would be fabulous,” said Andrea Cassutt, executive director of the nonprofit that provides instruments and teaches close to 300 kids attending 40 different schools how to play them.
The youth symphony, the only full orchestra program for young people in the state, typically ends the season with a series of concerts beginning in May at the Lensic Theater featuring its elementary strings, orchestra, jazz and mariachi ensembles. But those shows have already been canceled.
While such a series may have to be improvised this year, Cassutt said the SFYS so far has managed to navigate its way through the early stages of the coronavirus crisis without missing a beat.
Thanks to Google Hangouts and Zoom, “we didn’t miss a rehearsal at its normal time,” Cassutt said.
Such video conferencing apps have become the new normal these days with social distancing in full effect.
And students like theirs with elastic minds have adapted to it well, Cassutt says.
“We found that just seeing each other and being able to connect is very important,” she said.
Sarah Baker, no relation to NDI’s Russell Baker, at the Children’s Adventure Company has discovered the same thing.
Her group, which offers after-school and summer camp programs focusing on outdoor play for kids in kindergarten through 7th grade, is holding a 45-minute class Monday through Thursday each week on Zoom.
“It’s more of an opportunity for the kids to see each other and for us to see them, and give parents a little bit of a break,” she said. “It’s not our usual curriculum because we’re a very hands-on program and spend a lot of time outdoors.”
Over Zoom, the kids can play such games as Simon Says. They hold scavenger hunts with items that can be found within their own homes, tell stories and let the kids pick the endings, and set aside time for pet show-and-tells.
“We can’t do cooking and gardening, play outside or go for a hike – all our usual stuff has been put on hold. So we’re trying to be as creative as we can. Because being in front of a (computer) screen is different from our usual philosophy,” she said.
Andre Wiltenburg, owner of the Santa Fe Climbing Gym, can relate.
“For a rock climbing gym, it’s a little different, for sure,” said Wiltenburg, whose gym also has an after-school program and runs a summer adventure camp for kids.
They, too, are currently conducting their classes through Zoom.
As for the summer camp, which usually starts up around Memorial Day, “We’ll have to figure it out,” he said.
It would be nice if the stay-at-home order is lifted by then, but “We don’t want to put anybody at risk,” he said. “We know our social duties under the order.” So their focus now is doing core workouts with an emphasis on the muscles used in rock climbing.
“We’re trying to be inventive, using things you can do at home,” he said. “We’re trying to keep people in shape and doing it in a fun way, just without the climbing part.”
The coronavirus hasn’t just affected the way these enrichment programs go about their business, it also affects their employees and their bottom line.
“It’s definitely been stressful for a business owner,” said Wiltenburg, who employs 11 people and has had to furlough some of them. “It’s a strange time and we’re all adjusting. Our motto is, ‘We’ll get through this together and come out on the other side.’ ”
Unlike the other organizations mentioned in this story, the Santa Fe Climbing Gym is a for-profit business. Wiltenburg said he’s applied for federal assistance offered to small businesses and hopes that will help get them through to the other side of the crisis.
Sarah Baker says she has applied for five different loans or grants, including with the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, part of the $2 trillion relief package signed into law earlier this month.
“My main goal right now is keeping my teachers employed,” said Baker, who employs between seven and 25 people depending on the time of year. “So far, we’ve been able to manage. But we’re hoping some of these loans come through so we’ll be able to stay open.”
All of Cassutt’s employees with the Santa Fe Youth Symphony are part-time and she, too, is concerned about the revenue stream drying up.
“Our fundraising requirement is significant,” she said.
NDINM, supported by a solid fundraising infrastructure that generates millions of dollars in contributions and grants each year, may be in a better position than the other groups. But Russell Baker still has concerns. He says their end-of-year gala generates about 23% of their income.
He has also applied for help through the Paycheck Protection Program.
“We have made the application to hopefully maintain our programs and staffing. We are nervous, like all nonprofits, about keeping our teaching staff secure and safe,” he said.
Though these are troubling times and the coronavirus crisis is sure to have a lasting effect, even after it has passed, Baker says not all of it will necessarily be bad.
“The kinds of things that we’re doing through online and program offerings through streaming, I think that will continue into the future,” he said. “Some of the programs we’re developing now we’ll continue to do going forward.”