Lately, living rooms have become classrooms, kitchens have transformed into dance studios, and porches have turned into painting studios.
While arts organizations remain physically closed due to the novel coronavirus, many have been looking for ways to continue their programs virtually. That includes the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which unveiled its Learning Library last week.
The Library is a trove of educational activities and quick-video lessons, including dance instruction and stories from the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, printable activities, lessons on exercising the creative mind, etc. It’s also free to access.
“We wanted to capture the essence of what a SPAC season provides to the community. That is every art form; we don’t shy away from anything. So we thought it was really important to be able to offer a variety of different art forms and to engage people in them,” said Dennis Moench, SPAC’s senior director of education.
Over the last few years, SPAC’s educational programs, which often involve local teaching artists, have grown quite a bit. Last year alone SPAC served more than 49,000 students across the greater Capital Region. All of that came to a halt when schools pivoted to distance learning in mid-March. Moench knew SPAC had to find a different way to reach students.
“It was really just about reimagining everything we have been doing in an entirely new platform,” Moench said.
Shortly after schools physically closed, he began contacting local teaching artists about creating educational videos. SPAC has contracted with more than 25 professional musicians, storytellers and dancers, many of whom have lost work due to COVID-19, including the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.
“This is new territory for us,” said Ellen Sinopoli in an interview with The Gazette.
The modern dance company regularly works with SPAC’s Classical Kids Program, going into schools and presenting interactive dances.
The opportunity to be part of the Learning Library was a welcome one for Sinopoli and the five dancers in the company, whose upcoming performances were canceled.
“It was quite fortuitous because we have several residencies going on, including the one we were doing with SPAC, and all of them were affected by the shutdown. So the dancers and I were trying to brainstorm about ‘How can we keep these going?’ ” Sinopoli said.
Working with Moench, they came up with several ideas including a series called “Stories that Move.” It combines stories from regional storytellers with dances. It’s geared toward children 7 and under.
For adults and more experienced dance students, they created the Virtual Dance Lab. It showcases a dance called “Filament,” choreographed by Sinopoli.
It’s in the company’s repertoire and is performed by Erin Dooley, a dancer with the company. She takes viewers step by step through the first part of the dance. In upcoming videos, she’ll teach the next sections of the dance until viewers can perform the entire thing.
“The idea that SPAC had is really fantastic because they are going from very young children to teenagers and I just think it’s a wonderful possibility for young dancers to continue to learn and continue to experience even if they’re doing it in their kitchen or their living room,” Sinopoli said.
Moench, who is a former Broadway performer, gets in front of the camera for the “Kitchen Floor Dance Class” series, in which he teaches Broadway choreography.
Beyond that, the Library also includes a few programs meant for families to do together, including “SPAC Breaks.”
“They’re short, easy to digest, creative breaks in the day to hopefully allow children and families to exercise their creative minds throughout the day. It’s difficult in this environment to do. That’s one of the things people are going to be looking for is ‘how can I do something fun to break up the day?’ ” Moench said.
In one video, a member of Soul Steps leads viewers through a foot-stomping step routine. In another, a member of the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company teaches viewers how to create a modern dance.
While there are already several videos up online, Moench said there’s plenty more to come.
“We now are in a position where we have all of this content because we’ve been reaching out to artists to create these videos with us and we can’t edit them fast enough,” Moench said, “It is a growing resource library so we would love for people to check back whenever they want to do something creative, to learn a new art form because is it going to keep changing. This is only the beginning.”
For more information and to view the videos visit spaclearninglibrary.org.