From dancing to kicks, classes go virtual

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Daniel Whittal of Zanshin Dojo Karate Club, with the help of his daughter, Maria, holds an online class to 40 of his students.

By Bruce Corcoran

When the kids of Chatham-Kent can’t come to you, you go to the kids – virtually.

Be it karate instruction, dance class or music lessons, the teachers are reaching out via the Internet to help their students remain connected and learning during the self-distancing realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daniel Whittal of Zanshin Dojo Karate Club, part of the Brio Academy in Chatham, said the first run at hosting a virtual karate class was a hit. He had about 40 students logged in.

“It actually went really well, and it was a lot of fun,” he said. “I find the students were craving a sense of community. This was a good way to make it all come together. They can hear each other and wave at each other.”

Whittal said he set up the online classes on Zoom, a video conferencing app where the free version allows users to have up to 100 people connected.

That connection is beneficial, he said, for the physical exercise and the social interaction.

At the start of the class, it was all business.

“During class, I muted everyone so they could just hear me. At the end of the class. I took mute off and they (the students) just kind of hung out for a bit,” he said. “Having that social engagement and some exercise can really work together to lift your spirits.”

Alexandria Depuydt of Alexandria’s Dance Studio, said technology is helping to make up for some loss of face-to-face class time at her studio. She’s taken to social media and live video programs to help stay connected with her students.

“Last week, I was able to do it with some of my smaller classes. We just did it via Facebook Messenger. I could still see them and they could see me,” she said. “I’m looking at Zoom now, as it allows for more kids.”

Depuydt said staying in touch with the students and offering dance training provides a sense of normalcy for the kids, and the teachers.

“This way, we can still keep it up. They can still hang out and can still practice,” she said. “The kids really like it. But our little four and five year olds would rather talk to me than dance. Still, it helps it feel like a more normal life.”

Depuydt said her instructors are also providing lessons that she is sending out to the dancers, including strength and conditioning workouts.

This time of year is dance competition season, and although those have been postponed for now, the practices continue online.

Devon Hanson, director of music for St. Andrew’s United Church, said he was left scrambling over March Break, as in-person lessons were cancelled out of public safety and COVID-19 gathering restrictions.

“We had to figure out a solution, and it worked out. We spent the first half of the week laying the ground work and the second half of the week talking to parents,” he said. “We have about 250 students at the academy and we were able to transition just over 70 per cent over to an online option.”

Hanson said the parents appreciate the effort.

“A lot of parents were really happy that we gave them the option as we are hearing how bored the kids are at home,” he said. “We started doing the lessons online via Zoom and have had really good response so far.”

The music teachers are all working from home. Hanson said they have been quick to adapt to this new medium.

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