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Working out on the web: Local fitness, dance businesses adapt to stay-at-home order

by Elena Johnson
| May 5, 2020 12:38 PM

BarreU CDA closed its doors May 2.

But owner and instructor Jennifer Wiglesworth is determined to continue offering the dance-based exercise to Coeur d’Alene.

“I haven’t really allowed myself to emotionally go through what I need to closing the doors, but the clients have had a really hard time with it,” she said.

“Honestly, it’s been challenging, but I am not one to not face a challenge.”

After the March 25 announcement of a statewide shut down by Gov. Brad Little, BarreU, like many local businesses, transitioned to delivering classes online.

Video technology has created opportunities for many businesses to transition to digital models. Local gyms as well as fitness and dance studios, have been able to carry on with some of their group fitness classes.

This digital transition has allowed many to continue operating, lessening the sting for business owners, employees, and clients as some functions carry on.

Like the Kroc center, Empower Training Studio, and other area fitness elites, PEAK Health and Wellness Center has continued to offer classes despite shuttering their physical doors. Many of the fitness club’s instructors and trainers have continued to offer fitness classes as well as videos for meditation and nutrition advice.

Classes are recorded live and accessible on the Facebook page of each of the fitness club’s three locations.

“We’re offering this free to members and nonmembers,” said Carla cardinel, social media and Marketing Director for PEAK.

“Not only our [club] members, but people in our community need this,” she said.

Virtual fitness isn’t just for adults. Lokahi Dance Studio, which teaches dance to children ages 3 to 12, has also moved to an online model following the stay-at-home order.

“We jumped right into it, scrambled, and tried to figure out a new technology and ways to connect,” said Lokahi Dance owner and instructor Brian Zan Thompson. “It’s been a process.”

Thompson noted that many families are struggling with shuffled work and school routines. She said she felt the normalcy classes would add would be beneficial to the kids, while giving them a positive creative outlet.

“We felt like it was in our students’ best interest to continue and keep them going,” said Thompson.

But for BarreU, the transition may be a permanent solution to the need to close its doors.

“The plan is, as of right now, we’re going online and we’re staying online,” said Wiglesworth. “And my staff will stay online with me.”

The studio will continue to operate through its website and Facebook page, offering live and recorded classes. The schedule of live classes is updated weekly on their Facebook page. Classes are also recorded and available in the group’s digital galleries.

“I had to really think future-forward without really knowing what the future holds,” said Wiglesworth.

“So aggressively, I just kind of went for it.”

Wiglesworth has formal training in ballet and has been teaching barre for about 20 years. BarreU CDA has been open for five.

“Most of us are in the same boat,” she said. “Like all small business owners, especially in a small town like Coeur d’Alene, we are trying to hustle like nobody’s business.”

But it’s not all about the hustle for Wiglesworth. It’s also about her instructors and clients. Since closing the studio’s physical doors after the stay-at-home order until the end of April, BarreU’s classes were offered for free. Wiglesworth continued to pay her instructors and hopes to continue to do so.

Membership fees have also dropped to about a third of their original price, from $175 to just $57 for unlimited monthly access to videos.

“I wanted to make sure to price it so that everyone could do it, said Wiglesworth, “so that they can continue to stay healthy and exercise at home.”

“I’m all about meeting my clients’ needs and I really believe in living a healthy lifestyle.”

While offering classes free of charge to the community can be a useful way to show what a facility has to offer, Cardinel isn’t worried about recruiting more members. Like Wiglesworth and Thompson, she says PEAK’s eye is on the community.

“At least we’re helping people and that’s what we’re here for,” she said.

“Honestly our instructors were the first to jump in and say, ‘We’re willing to do this,’” said Cardinel.

Both businesses’ Facebook pages also operate to retain a sense of community. PEAK videos are filled with comments greeting and thanking instructors. Wigleworth said social media has allowed them to share their lives as well as their mutual love of barre, as they once did in the studio’s lobby.

That’s not to say adapting to an online model has been easy.

“It’s been actually pretty challenging,” said Thompson. “And actually I’m working more.”

Thompson is recording, editing, and uploading all of the videos for the 11 classes Lokahi offers – seven of which she teaches herself.

“It’s definitely time-consuming, but what else can we do?” she said.

Difficulties uploading or getting copyright claims for music can also be challenges.

“That’s one of the biggest things,” she said. “We want to use popular, fun music in our classes and our videos, but then YouTube is very strict about that so they’ll even take down a video [if it’s popular and copyrighted].”

Still, Thompson has noticed a benefit among her students, too. It has encouraged parents to get more involved.

“Even the parents are jumping in and they’re practicing with their kids. It’s kind of a neat bonding experience,” she said.

Likewise, instructors at PEAK and BarreU have had to adapt their classes for those tuning in at home.

When asked if participants could still get a useful workout without attending class in-person, Cardinel responded, “Oh, yes!”

Cardinel added that PEAK instructors are able to offer variety and modifications for skill and experience level, in addition to class changes allowing those following at home to exercise with little (or no) equipment.

“All of our classes and workouts can be done by any person,” said Cardinel. “The instructors can teach at all levels.”

Wiglesworth has similarly adapted her barre classes for the virtual student – and found there may even be a benefit in those adaptations for those tuning in at home.

“The advantage of going online is you see me doing the forms the entire time and I’m doing it in proper form,” said Wiglesworth, “but I’m also giving you additional cues to all the different muscles that you’re working so you’re really understanding what you’re supposed to be doing.”

At Lokahi, Thompson has been experimenting with Zoom classes with her students in addition to sharing recorded videos.

Although she admits it can be challenging to keep younger members engaged, the instructor said the children have begun to catch on. The practice also allows the classes to get together while adhering to distancing guidelines.

“They pop on with their tutus and ballet slippers and they’re all just like excited and you know dancing around showing their own dance moves and they actually do engage with it.” Thompson said.

“That’s been really fun to just see their faces and practice their recital dances together. So it’s a way to connect right now.”

The dance studio is planning to keep their summer recital, although Thompson is unsure of the form it will take or whether it will occur on its scheduled date in early June.

“I don’t know exactly if it will be the traditional recital, but we are gonna make it happen one way or another as long as it’s following guidelines,” said Thompson.

“It will be the light at the end of the tunnel for sure.”

As for continuing in the digital sphere when social isolation ends, Lokahi and PEAK are considering the idea.

Cardinel has been researching the idea already and acknowledges that many of the gym’s instructors and trainers had already offered additional advice and expertise digitally before.

“Until we can open our doors, we plan on continuing to do this.”

“I think that’s definitely a possibility,” said Thompson. “It’s definitely opened some new doors and possibilities.”

One thing is certain, both are eager to see members and students again.

“We’re super excited about being back in our ‘home,’” said Cardinel, who added that members have been expressing their thanks for the videos as well as missing the staff.

“Our staff misses our members as much if not more sometimes,” she joked.

“We’re hoping we can get our kids back in here dancing soon. We miss them so much,” echoed Thompson.

Although BarreU’s future is unclear, Wiglesworth is hopeful the studio will continue to have a physical presence in the community, even without a studio.

“I plan to do events again,” said Wiglesworth, who said she has enjoyed hosting past events for charity, leading barre exercises in parks or bars.

“And I plan to continue to partner with local businesses and to give clients and members and friends that taste of barre, and that positive community through events like that.”

And until then, local studios, gyms, fitness clubs, and other businesses are here to help the community stay active at home.

“Encouraging our kids to continue and also supporting their local businesses – it’s huge right now,” said Thompson. “I’m very proud of our community.”