As director of Academy of Performing Arts and a chair for Encore Performing Society, organizations working with large numbers of children, Lena Huffman has been through a difficult period of time.

"Ever since our performance at the robotics competition at Northeastern State University in March, we have been offering Zoom classes to all of our students. It has required obtaining new equipment, professional Zoom membership, adapting our teaching styles and methods, but we did not give up because we want our students to continue improving and staying active," said Huffman.

She said her instructors have adapted and have been amazing.

"When I needed them to record dances for each class for students to practice at home, they did that. When I needed them to teach out of their own living room, they did that," said Huffman. "Personally, I have managed to take several continuous education classes because I want to always be an example for my students in action as much as in words. With a team like this - wonderful teachers, hard-working students, supporting parents - we are bound to continue making our dancers the best they can be and making their dreams come true."

While Encore put the "Cinderella" ballet on hold for spring 2020, private lessons and small-group classes have been held at APA.

"It is both a blessing and a curse. For the business, it is a financial hit, but for the dancers who choose to take this opportunity, it is a great chance to improve," said Huffman. "During an individual lesson, a teacher's attention is focused on nothing but the dancer in question. Private lessons are a great responsibility and it's an honor to be selected for those, yet they serve as a trampoline or a catapult for improvement."

All the summer programs have been modified to have limited enrollment.

"Even in our biggest room, which is 3,600 square feet, we do not bring in more than 15 participants at a time - and that includes a teacher," said Huffman. "Of course, everyone is concerned with safety at this time."

Julianne Burns is one of the students enrolled in the musical theater intensive.

"I am comfortable with dancing at APA. We take precautions, the studio is cleaned every day, and I feel safe," said Burns.

Some of the precautions include singing outside and altering choreography to avoid partnering.

"We only sing outside first thing in the morning at pink spots, in the shade outside of studio E, all 6 feet apart, facing the same direction and keeping wind direction and strength as consideration," said Huffman. "Each morning, the students and teachers undergo a contactless temperature check, with sign-in sheets for each studio for contact tracing. When inside the studio, we are always spread out as recommended by CDC guidelines."

Hand sanitizer is mandatory, and masks are encouraged. Huffman said many students and teachers have been wearing masks without difficulty dancing.

After each intensive, a germicidal lamp, which produces ultraviolet C light, and steam mops are used. Through a grant, Encore Performing Society is procuring an additional hospital-grade UVC lamp, and is working on installing HEPA filters in the studios.

"As far as the difficulties that Encore Performing Society - a local nonprofit organization dedicated to immersion in arts through education and participation - has faced, the biggest one is that we had to postpone our spring ballet, 'Cinderella.' This was the one we were going to bring back to the community since 2013, and everyone was so excited to come together in it. Instead, we have opted to create a summer master class series at a low cost," said Huffman.

Some of the guests are Chris Nored, a creator of the hip-hop company Abstrakt Mindz; Troy Hamilton, a well-known contemporary choreographer and performer; and Erin Wilcox, a recent graduate from University of Tulsa masters program and a TU pom dancer.

APA instructor Natalie Walker is holding a jazz and pom technique class for high school and middle school students who have auditioned and made it on the pom teams.

Encore is also hosting its annual dance summer intensive with guest teachers and choreographers. It will take place at the Academy of Performing Arts July 20-24 for age groups 8-12, and 13 and up.

"This one is for experienced dancers. They will take classes in ballet, pointe, contemporary, modern, and learn about dance history and improvisation," said Huffman. "The classes will last from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so that will be a glimpse in the life of a professional dancer for some of them."

Get involved

Those interested in more information about this dance intensive can email EncoreperformingSociety@gmail.com or call or text 918-803-1408.Fall enrollment for Academy Of Performing Arts dance education programs starts on July 7. For more information, visit www.danceTahlequah.com, email questions to apatahlequahdancestudio@gmail.com, or text or call Huffman at 918-803-1408.

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