Dance schools across the state have taken their classes online during lockdown but falling student numbers are putting many at risk of closing down completely, according to an industry survey.
Some Melbourne dance schools have not seen students in their studios for almost three months, but in regional areas classes in the last weeks of term two and the first weeks of term three went ahead providing much needed income and engagement.
But it's still been tough for Ballarat dance schools as they try to maintain connection and engagement with young dancers during online classes.
"It's been hard but our first priority is always the kids ... their welfare and keeping them engaged is the main thing we want to do," said Ballarat Danceworks artistic director Pamela Waghorn.
Ms Waghorn said children spending their days in front of the computer for remote schooling were sometimes reluctant to get back in front of the computer to dance.
"It might be the last thing they want to do, but sometimes it's a relief," she said. "The dancers miss all their friends. They were very upset when we had to close down again but we reinforce that we will still be here when they get back. You've just got to be positive."
A new report from Ausdance Victoria reveals 92 per cent of dance studio owners are concerned their business won't survive until March next year, and that 85 per cent of dance studio owners have lost more than half of their income.
Some have lost 80 per cent of their students.
The survey also revealed about half or studios are either ineligible or were rejected for state government support. Sixty per cent of studios have let staff go and 90 per cent had reduced staff hours.
"The dance sector is highly interdependent", said Ausdance Victoria executive director Michelle Silby.
"With artists out of work, and with many studios ineligible for economic stimulus support, the flow-on effect for the broader dance ecology, in terms of economic, physical, and mental wellbeing, is profound. If these businesses collapse, thousands of independent dance artists and associated workers will lose their primary sources of income, and the cumulative effect on local economies, such as performance venues, dance suppliers, and related retailers, will be exponentially catastrophic".
The results of the survey were presented to the state government last week as the sector works to explore how to ensure the sector keeps dancing on.
Anita Coutts said her dance studio had retained most students and about 80 per cent of staff but their wages had been cut but she was grateful she and some staff were eligible for Job Keeper and the state's business subsidy grants.
"It doesn't go anywhere to what we are losing financially and this will be the worst year we have ever had," she said. "But it's the same as every business in Ballarat that has closed and suffered financially - you can't recoup that lost income."
She was confident her school would survive the pandemic because of its 30 year history and reputation, but felt for younger dance schools whose directors have young families or the dance school is a second income.
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"There are so many of those particularly in Melbourne who operate out of small halls but I've got my own purpose-built premises ... and I'm a positive person. I've had to get through so many other things with the business over the years this is another hurdle I have to get over."
Ms Coutts had seven weeks of students back in the studios of her Canadian dance school between lockdowns.
"I'm really grateful for those seven weeks. It felt like I had seen the students and we really connected again," she said.
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