Above, Savanna Spindelman, manager of Jan’s Dance Connection, leads the Waluck girls in a dance routine.
By John Hummer
Jan Witte, owner of Jan’s Dance Connection in Brooklyn, couldn’t have been happier last Thursday when she heard the news that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order that lifted the restrictions on sports and exercise facilities, which includes dance studios.
Such businesses, which were forced to close their doors back in March due to COVID-19, are now able to open again at 25 percent of their total occupancy limits, established by fire codes, this Wednesday, Sept. 16.
“The kids were missing dance and wanted to come back,” she said. “When school started, it was the hope that we could start back as well.”
Looking back, Witte said, “It did get very tempting to say ‘Oh, the heck with it, just break the rules.’ But we clung to them for so long, we weren’t about to throw it all away just because it’s easy.”
She did try to hold dance classes on Zoom for a while but said that presented a myriad of restrictions and issues, including music delays and bad internet connections. She also tried YouTube dance tutorials, but it just wasn’t the same as the in-person interaction needed at the studio.
The Waluck girls practice their dance balance with the aid of the bars on the wall of the dance studio.
“We’ve been really at a huge disadvantage so now we feel like we’re able to open in accordance with all the COVID orders and be able to continue in-person dance classes – that’s huge.”
Normally, Jan’s classes begin the week after Labor Day, which fell on Monday, Sept. 7.
“This is going to push us back a week,” Witte said. “We were originally hoping to open the middle of August because we are still trying to finish our dance season from last year. We were not able to have our dance recital yet.”
Everything came to a screeching halt in March, including the holding of the ever-popular dance recital in May.
“We were hoping to have the recital, but as things got pushed back and pushed back, it was obvious we weren’t going to be able to have it.”
Now Witte and Studio Manager Savanna Spindelman are shooting for an end-of-October recital and rebooting the new dance season in November.
Dance has been a part of Witte’s life for 42 years. Jan’s Dance Connection will be kicking off its 17th year this fall. Spindelman has been managing the studio for a year-and-a-half.
Witte and Spindelman have been working on a studio floor plan that includes six-feet squares for social distancing while students are dancing. Masks will be required in the building except for the dancers in the squared-off areas. They will also keep the lobby area free of parents “hanging around,” Witte said. Anyone entering the building must also have their temperature taken.
One thing that may have helped dance studios, gyms, and similar businesses to finally get the governor’s go-ahead to reopen was a series of interviews Sen. Mike Shirkey held with such businesses to highlight the devasting effect the closures had on them. Among his interviewees was Witte.
“Financially, it’s devastating on a small business owner that cannot open their studio or business for five months,” Witte told Shirkey. “We’re just very passionate about dance and letting everybody in the state open their doors to the children.” She added that dance is not only important to a child’s physical and mental well-being but is also an important socialization activity that kids have missed out on. She also informed Shirkey that dance studios and gyms in northern Michigan have been open for some time with no COVID cases that have emerged as of yet.
Clockwise from left: The Waluck girls – Kaliana, Cara, Dakota, and Lucy – stretch as part of their routine prior to dancing.
“We would just like the opportunity to show the governor, to show our community, that we can safely open just like all the businesses that have been allowed to do so,” Witte said during the interview prior to the executive order allowing her business to reopen.
“I don’t think business owners like you would do anything that would put their customers and their families at risk,” Shirkey said. “This is about giving people a chance to prove that they know how to do it safely and they take it very, very seriously – just like I know you do.”
During the closure period, Witte was able to obtain a very small business loan to help get through it.
“That helped a little bit,” she said. “But obviously when you’re closed for five-and-a-half months, you’re dipping into your personal savings just to keep things running. But we were able to keep everything afloat, so it’s exciting to be able to reopen again.”