Vero dance studios forced to step back and ‘reinvent’

Dancing cheek-to-cheek is a no-no in the age of social distancing and, as a result, Vero Beach’s dance studios have had to devise alternative ways to reach their dancing public.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of Swingsation’s 14th Avenue Dance Studio’s regularly scheduled Monday night Salsa classes at the studio, Tuesday night classes and Friday evening dances at the Vero Beach Community Center, and Salsa Night Thursdays at the Polish American Club until further notice.

Florida’s stay-at-home order slammed Swingsation’s owners Joe and Shari Tessier – who also run a disc jockey business – with a double whammy financially.

“The first thing that hit the wall was, all the events for our DJ company were canceled,” Joe Tessier said. “We had contracts with wedding couples, corporate events – we had a contract to work for the Blue Angels on their opening day – and everything got shut down. That was kind of a blow.”

As social distancing measures grew increasingly strict, dance activity ground to a halt by March 17, the Tessiers said. The popular downtown studio even had to cancel its 20th anniversary celebration.

“We’re, like a lot of people, shut down right now,” Tessier said in a Facebook video. “We’re dead in the water.”

In place of the Monday night Salsa class at the studio, Swingsation’s has offered a 6 p.m. Facebook class featuring footwork patterns and basic moves. There’s no charge to view the video, but supporters can make a donation online via PayPal.

The coronavirus pandemic also shut down the Indian River Ballroom, said owner Robert Scott, who has taught dance in Vero Beach since 1987.

“Obviously, you cannot social-distance and dance,” Scott said. “There is no responsible way to do group dancing, or do individual instruction, or have people interacting with each other and a variety of other partners in the course of an evening. There’s no responsible way to do that during this crisis.”

The studio owners are now waiting to see when the pandemic will subside enough to allow them to restart their businesses. Their concern is that some dancers may be hesitant to return to the scene even after governments allow people to congregate.

“It’s a contact sport,” said Karren Walter, a dance instructor affiliated with Indian River Ballroom. “I don’t think everybody is going to jump right in. I think they’re still going to be cautious, especially the elder clientele. And that’s OK too.”

The Tessiers, Scott and Walter are perennial professional contenders in the annual Dancing with Vero’s Stars fundraiser at Riverside Theatre to benefit the Indian River Healthy Start Coalition. That too has been postponed. It has been rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 19.

Like a lot of other small businesses, Swingsation’s is maintaining a presence online, experimenting with dance classes on Facebook and dance videos on YouTube.

“We’re trying to reinvent ourselves,” Tessier said. “We’re producing different types of videos and tutorials online, trying to put material out there and stay connected with our students, which actually has been very well-received. People are really interacting with us and having fun with that. We’re going to be ramping that up and doing more of it soon.

“We’re even talking about the possibility of doing a fun DJ party online, where you can tune into us live playing music for a couple of hours, and put it on your house sound system and have a house party with people you’re quarantined with,” he added.

At this point, it’s a waiting game.

“I feel we really don’t know what’s on the other side,” Tessier said. “So, yeah, a month seems like a lot. Then you go, ‘OK, for 30 days, let’s all buckle down and get this thing nipped and get it out of the public in 30 days.’ That gives us hope that at the end of the 30 days we will be able to get back to some semblance of normal.”

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