Tucker, GA – At three years old, Amy Gilbert knew she wanted to be a dance teacher. It never crossed her mind that she would do anything else.
That little dancer with a dream and a passion now owns a dance studio in Tucker.
As Gilbert walks into Pointe of Grace Ballet in 2021, she makes sure everything is clean for her in-person classes and prepares to teach virtually.
She has pushed through the coronavirus pandemic and has been able to keep her doors open. She has seen the impact of the other studios closing.
“It’s just very sad,” Gilbert said, “because I know how hard dance teachers, and any teacher, works to make their business or their classroom the best and then when this happens and it shuts it down, it’s very devastating.”
Pointe of Grace has found ways to grow and endure during this difficult time, although there have been challenges. Teachers took a cut in pay in May, Gilbert has lost some students, the studio didn’t receive any governmental aid, and classes have gone virtual.
Gilbert had to shut down her studio for in person classes in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. She was determined to find ways to keep the studio open.
The teachers did take a cut in pay for the month of May, but Gilbert was able to pay them that missed amount in the fall and didn’t have to let any teachers go.
A week after the shelter-in-place order this spring, they began doing classes every day through Facebook Live until the end of May and also did Zoom classes.
“Some days it’s ok. Other days, it kind of depends on the level, the age of the kids,” Gilbert said about teaching virtually.
“It’s draining after a while because you’re trying to make sure that you’ve got tons of attention on the screen plus tons of attention in the class,” she added.
Students started coming back into the studio in June and have been in person since. Gilbert even transformed her lobby area into another studio space so classes can remain small and students can socially distance.
She is currently teaching about 110 students, a third of what she normally has. Gilbert is also only teaching at her Tucker studio and not teaching at schools.
All students wear a mask while at the studio, use hand sanitizer, and get their temperature checked at the door. Teachers also clean in between classes, at the end of the day and Gilbert sometimes will clean again the next day.
The studio also shifted to doing performances outside in the studio parking lot throughout the pandemic.
The dancers did an outdoor recital in June and December 2020 where each age group had 30 minutes to practice and perform. Parents were allowed to attend and other family members could watch on Zoom.
“We just were trying to step outside the box. We had a lot of parents who were like ‘we feel like we can do this in a safe zone’ and we did outside,” Gilbert said.
Sarah Thomas, 14, has been dancing with Gilbert for 10 years. She described the studio as a family. Gilbert agreed, adding that it is a family affair with her relatives helping out.
“You learn to support your family. Everybody does what they have to do to make sure that it gets done,” Gilbert said.
Thomas began dancing with Gilbert at a St. Andrews Presbyterian Church and did so for about six years until Gilbert opened her own studio in 2017.
The girls in the senior ensemble have all danced with Gilbert for several years and have grown up together. Thomas explained that they call Gilbert their second mom.
“It’s like a family and we were so excited for her like we would be for any family member,” Thomas said about the studio opening.
Thomas’ mom, Meg, said that parents were involved in the development of the studio.
“[Gilbert] knew what was what but she wanted input from her students and parents and that was really neat,” Meg said.
The longtime students and parents even played a special role in building the studio. Parents helped paint and build as much as they could.
The ensemble company dancers, who have been with Gilbert for several years, were given a wood square in which they could write or draw whatever they wanted on it. Those pieces of wood then served as part of the base layer for the dance floor.
“So we have lots of scripture and love under that floor,” Thomas said.
“On the 4×8 plywood sheeting that’s underneath everything when they built it, there’s personalized, loving memories and we all know it’s there,” Meg added. “Nobody would know but we know it’s there. We were really excited to be part of the heart of the studio. That was very special.”
Pointe of Grace Dance is offering classes Monday through Saturday in person and online for three-year-olds up to high school students. Most classes have five to seven students with 10 being the most in any in-person class.
“I’ve danced in other places and there’s really nothing that compares to Pointe of Grace, and her studio,” Thomas said. “In the dance class, out of the dance class, no matter what it’s a family. At the end of the day, we’re a family and we’re cheering each other on no matter what.”
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