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ENCORE Performing Arts Center offers in-person and online dance classes for students during COVID-19.

COURTESY PHOTO: ENCORE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER - When students enter Encores studio on 7700 S.W. Nimbus Ave. in Beaverton, they must pass a health screening and temperature check at the door. A mask is also required at all times.

Plié, six feet away?

That's what Encore Performing Arts Center in Beaverton is doing to keep students safe in dance classes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Encore's owner, Valerie Dawn, is also requiring students and staff to complete a health screening with COVID-19-related questions, undergo a temperature check at the door, and wear a mask at all times inside the building.

"The virus has impacted us in many ways, including the setup of having to come into class, exit the class, (and) making sure there's only a flow of one-way traffic when we enter and exit," said Dawn. "That takes up time into our classes."

Despite having to close the center's doors to in-person classes in mid-March, Dawn invested in Zoom early to keep classes going online. Instructors were either teaching from home or driving into the studio to teach from there. It wasn't until June when students could learn new dance techniques and choreography in person.

With Zoom all set up, Dawn decided to keep online classes going for those not ready to come back to the studio quite yet.

"We installed 55-inch TVs, where all of our teachers are both teaching in-person live classes and at the same time teaching kids on Zoom," she added. "We're trying to meet the demands of both types of people."

But sometimes adjusting to circumstances isn't enough.

Dawn admits that she has lost several students who would rather wait until COVID-19 is no longer a threat before they come back to classes. She says it was difficult for students to go to school all day online and then have dance classes in the evening in front of a screen.

COURTESY PHOTO: ENCORE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER - Two children seen practicing ballet with masks on at the Encore Performing Arts Center in Beaverton. The center is requiring students and staff to wear masks while in the building due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"From headaches, to just being depressed and miserable because of the sudden change, there were a lot of kids that couldn't navigate that," said Dawn. "It was just super-hard (for them)."

In-person dance classes have helped kids break the cycle of "online everything" in a COVID-19-filled world, Dawn believes.

"Kids moving right now is such an important thing, because the mental health of kids is incredibly important," said Dawn. "After being on Zoom all day at school, the students are feeling so happy to be back in a space moving around and just enjoying their bodies after they're sitting all day looking at a TV screen or monitor."

When asked about keeping masks on in cardio-heavy dances, Dawn said, "It was weird at first. There was a lot of fear about getting air and getting students moving, but they're adaptable."

Adaptability is a lesson Dawn has tried to instill in her students to deal with the struggles 2020 has thrown at them — and many others throughout the country.

COURTESY PHOTO: ENCORE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER - Students at Encore follow along during a dance class. The performing arts studio in Beaverton provides in-person and virtual classes during the pandemic.

The studio owner is no stranger to dealing with situations completely out of your control.

"I have been fighting breast cancer since 2018," Dawn said. "That fight in me was definitely weighed at large with mental health. With dance, you can move your body and feel better about life."

According to the National Cancer Institute, some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can weaken the immune system and may increase risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Dawn says she's staying careful in the studio by wiping down surfaces and keeping her mask on. She feels the mental health benefits are worth it.

As for performances, Dawn hopes her students can compete once again in April 2021, but she is prepared for the worst if the coronavirus lingers.

"I have set up my entire year as if we are in Phase 1," she said. "It's like a cherry on top if we go into Phase 2 and be able to do ever more from there. We've learned from the last year how to set up our dancing six feet apart and how to perform for video. I'm very honest with the students about that kind of thing."

For the time being, Encore's next annual recital is scheduled for June 19, 2021.

COURTESY PHOTO: ENCORE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER - The coronavirus pandemic has forced many dancers to practice inside a facility with a mask on.


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