NY Times Article: "Turning Living Rooms into Recital Halls" - May 16,2020

READ in the NYTimes about the importance of continuity and persistence in the face of COVOID-19 from a ninety-two year old veteran piano teacher, a Holocaust survivor. "I believe strongly in continuity. My students learn to be persistent in what they are doing. I try to teach them not only how to learn, but how to work".

Pivots and Pirouettes - Saturday May 16, 2020

Dear All,

What a year we have had together! From Nut Remix as an ensemble to physical distancing and virtual instruction, we’ve enjoyed many successes and endured challenges this season, learning a lot along the way. We appreciate your support through it all! In this letter, I will provide an overview of the 2019-2020 season, our response to COVID-19 and our approach to equity during this time, as well as our plans moving forward with the online Summer Conference.

In the beginning of the season, we all endured a less than optimal software rollout during registration, and our team scrambled to make the fixes. Ultimately, we pivoted, beginning a search for a better suited system to fit our model of a professional standard regardless of the ability to pay. Thank you for your patience and understanding. We have found one, and look forward to a smooth transition next year. 

Beginning with our residencies in SCS, five Teaching Artists and assistants, freshly home from professional development in New York City, taught weekly in six schools. These include schools with low attendance and challenges to reach a higher proficiency in reading and math. We hope that our work provided not only excellent teaching, but also stress relief and an outlet for expression.

In the studios, preparation for Nut Remix began in August with Kaori Ogasawara's setting of Snow and Flowers on levels Six and Seven. Beginning in September, we worked together to prepare early childhood dancers for Mice, Soldiers and Rats. Levels Three and Four learned corps de ballet work as they worked diligently on Chinese, Pollies and Dolls. Level Five danced roles as Chinese soloists, as Angels (on pointe for the first time onstage) and in the hip hop battle and West African, spanning a diversity of cultures and techniques! In the upper levels, dancers pushed into Pas de Deux and soloist work, some for the first time. Milestones! And, audiences reported "the best Nut Remix ever".

Second semester registration increased as we welcomed new students, and we began working with Michael Medcalf and General Hambrick, accomplished professionals and Assistant Professors of Dance in university programs. Level Four began training in Flamenco with Ms. Noelia, Springloaded rehearsals were underway, and more guest choreographers were planning their residencies at New Ballet when the COVID-19 crisis hit.

We had two important tasks and two teams to execute a quick turnaround. Immediately, the Program Team designed the first virtual classrooms and full schedule for dance available in the region. New Ballet was also the first organization in Memphis to convert our annual (and essential) fundraiser to a virtual campaign. Board members, students and I rushed to film assets that could be loaded onto a hastily acquired platform. Thanks to the Marketing and Development team, our Board of Directors and Donors, it was a success - - and it needed to be in order to obtain technology to facilitate remote teaching and meet overhead costs. We rallied to make it into the first Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) applicant pool aiding our ability to keep our staff employed. We understand that we were privileged to be in a position to work with our First Horizon bankers, and are humbled and grateful to accept these loans.

Tackling Equity and Paying it Forward -

Zoom classes are an imperfect solution, but they do provide continuity for those who can access them and a platform for us to maintain our connection. Given some of the benefits, we know that not only are dancers sad not to move across the floor with their dance family, there are also extreme barriers to digital access in Memphis, and working through this societal issue is most challenging. Some solutions to remaining connected to those without access have included providing content to Shelby County Schools principals for distribution on Facebook to as well as providing video resources for SCS TV broadcast on BOUNCE. Other long term plans are focused on addressing food security while advocating for the bridging of the digital divide.

To further address issues of equity and insecurity, New Ballet focused “Giving Tuesday Now” efforts on raising funds to address food insecurity in Orange Mound, a community in which many of our students and Teaching Artists live. New Ballet’s Orange Mound Food Fund is an initiative to deliver groceries and gift cards to families who are directly impacted by illness, job loss, and more as a result of the coronavirus crisis. With support from the community, we managed to raise over $10,000, and plans are underway to distribute Superlo cards and boxes of food in the coming weeks.

The burning question from both parents and students remains, "When can we dance in the studio again?” The city’s last minute decision to open “dance studios” to 25% capacity was a surprise. New Ballet will phase in studio access when safety policies and procedures are in place and we are convinced by health experts that the health of your family and the greater community are not at risk.

When ready, we will begin by allowing small groups only into the studio for in-person classes levels 5-7. Because of capacity limits, these must be staggered so that no more than nine students are training at the same time. Restrooms will be closed, and only students and staff allowed in the building. As of now, no determination has been made as to when this will begin. Of course, it would be optimal to have a decision before May 30. Even so, we must be able to pivot as nimbly as we do on the stage, with an abundance of caution and a lot of preparation.

Attendance and participation during the Summer Conference (Levels 5-7) will determine who receives priority when signing up for small-group on-site classes. 

Zoom Fatigue is real - I’m reading this, and I hear you!

We are investing 100% in our program and students to provide excellent programming and safety, using their feedback to engage the artists they admire and topics they suggest in the Summer Conference. We know that you respect that effort and we encourage your partnership in talking with the dancers about trusting our dance knowledge and ability to help them grow in an engaging way while at home. I am also here to talk with student dancers one on one if needed. Hopefully, not being on Zoom for school and having the break will help! The conference will be Mon - Thrus only and from 12-3p. Any in studio phase in will be in the early hours, due to the requirement for open doors and no AC.

It's our hope that these three weeks off of dancing on Zoom will help students compartmentalize as they focus on exams and rest from screen time. It is also my fervent belief, grounded in experience and knowledge of young dancers, that dancing in ANY WAY POSSIBLE is an essential ingredient for mental and emotional wellness. It cannot look, feel, or BE the same when classes are virtual, but it can absolutely be utilized as a growth tool, leading to improvement in the long run. This week, those who have attended my “open” class have shown remarkable improvement in front of our eyes. Just ask Ava, Caroline, Sidney and Isabel about Milly’s arabesque (we cried)! And, wow! How the Level 6 dancers learned from watching Caroline and Ava. It was great! My open and free class is available for levels 5-7, Tuesday Thursday at 4:15 with the exception of May 21. If you wouild like to audit with your child in Levels 3 or 4, please email kathy [at] newballet [dot] org

Resilience, discipline, adaptability, flexibility and using our intellect to inform technique are all essential for a dancer. Many of us (as you have probably recognized in your own children) are born dancers. We need to dance like we need food. The thing is, dance is not only physical. The physical act of moving through space can be curtailed without a loss of technique. 

We also need dance while learning and studying other subjects. To completely extricate ourselves from dance when we are accustomed to the endorphin release generated by doing what we love is unadvised as academic pressure builds, even if we profess NOT to love dancing on Zoom! This is one of the core beliefs I hold that is the most difficult to communicate to parents and dancers, difficult because I know it to be true from first hand experience, and there is sometimes a belief that dance distracts from school work, when in fact, studies show that academic outcomes actually improve for highly children engaged in the performing arts.

I appreciate your trust in Noelia and me. TOGETHER WE CAN PUSH THROUGH this period of time.




Summer Updates and Plans - Saturday May 9, 2020

Dear New Ballet Families,

Making plans for this summer and next fall involves weighing the delicate balance between the health of individuals, our entire community and the students' emotional needs while filtering through the guidelines available to us. We must obtain PPE, distribute online policies and waivers and work towards safe practices, policies and procedures for a phased reopening. The months of June and July will be considered separately as both have full programming scheduled.

Out of necessity, our program team is designing a couple of scenarios. A June “virtual dance conference" with the guest artists already contracted for our summer intensive programming will be in place, regardless of our ability to phase in studio classes in small groups as an enhancement***. Input from the students will guide content for the conference, including and beyond dance technique class. Additionally, we are happy to announce that this great opportunity to learn from principle dancers and master teachers will reach many more in our community through a partnership with three of our Shelby County Schools partners.

We understand that the burning question from students is, "When can we dance in the studio again"? Our answer is that when the time is right, and all of the safety policies and procedures are in place and approved by our Board of Directors and health experts, we will begin by allowing small groups*** into the studio for in-person classes for annually registered students only. Because of capacity limits, these must be staggered so that no more than nine students train at the same time. Restrooms will be closed and only students and staff allowed in the building. As of now, no determination has been made as to when this will begin. Of course, it would be optimum to have a decision before June 1. If this "phase in" is not approved or advised, virtual classes will be in place to substitute. We must be able to pivot as nimbly as we do on the stage, with an overabundance of caution and a lot of preparation. IMPORTANT: Attendance and participation in online classes and the conference will determine those who are given priority registration for these classes. We are investing 100% in our program and students to provide excellent programming and safety. We know that you respect that effort and encourage your partnership in talking witht he dancers about trusting our dance  knowledge and ability to help them grow while at home.

Goals for the Virtual Conference:

  1. Continued growth and learning through special workshops with professionals

  2. Alumni led discussions with those majoring in dance, medicine, choreography, business and film about the college experience and preparing for careers

  3. Student Agency: Using feedback from the surveys, we will tailor the program to student needs and desires.

  4. Widening our net to include New Ballet's Pathways students from our satellite programs.

Goals for a phase in at the studio:

  1. Policies and safe practices in place and agreements to adhere to those policies signed by families
  2. Short classes designed to methodically build stamina and strength while avoiding injury
  3. A rotation that allows for social distancing and adherence to CDC guidelines
  4. Equity and consideration of all of our students and the entire community

Although we cannot give you final information on a decision, I hope that this has at least provided a window into our thinking and the work that we are doing behind the scenes. We appreciate your feedback and have compassion for the fact that dancers truly need their in-person studio experience to feel whole. We feel the same way!

Thank you for all of your devotion, support, and for being a part of the New Ballet Family. Your work as parents has increased! We appreciate that you are there for your children as they work hard at school and dance virtually, and we thank you for allowing us into your homes to teach.

Gratefully, Katie and the New Ballet Team

Update May 2, 2020

We are excited to announce that plans are underway to produce a virtual spring performance featuring students in Levels 4-7 and Advanced Hip Hop. Please look for emails with rehearsal schedules and video submission due dates. We hope to begin release on May 30!

Beginning Monday May 10, Academic break will begin. Please use the YouTube videos already provided for students moving forward until Intensives and Camps are up and ready. We are planning for two scenarios.

1) The resumption and phase in of classes in the York Avenue Studio

2) Virtual offerings "reimagined" with highly sought after guest artists and added arts comprehensive programming.

Through ArtsMemphis, New Ballet is working with partners in the arts to determine safe opening times so that our plans are coordinated. Additionally, no decisions will be made without support from the Health Department, City and County officials. We will follow their guidelines for reopening. Thank you! We hope that your families are in good spirits, healthy and safe.

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra invitied us to collaborate on The Swan, seen here. We love this collaboration and the students enjoyed the agency to create their own material. Note: Because the dancers felt susceptible to injury dancing in their homes, we placed them in an isolated environment in the studio one at a time per their request. The room was completely cleaned before and after the taping.

Summer Update - April 21, 2020

At this time there is no plan to postpone or cancel summer events and classes. We are monitoring the situation, planning for all scenarios, and updates will be forthcoming.

A Letter from Katie - April 17, 2020

Greetings New Ballet Families,

This has been quite a four-week period, as we all can agree. Wherever you are and however you are riding this out, we HOPE that you are safe and well.

Zoom: We have learned a lot in these four weeks, adopting and learning new technology and how best to deliver our content both through You Tube and Zoom. As we hear and observe from our students, we are learning that this access is important to them. Yesterday, 100% of my Ballet 5 class said that they felt "happier" after taking their Zoom class. I'm grateful for that, because that is why we are here - - for Mind, Body and Spirit in good times and bad. Honestly, it was very difficult to log off and say "goodbye" last night. We are accustomed to courtseys and hugs! Clearly, we are not perfect at this (and may never be), but we are doing our best. Your support and feedback has been invaluable. Keep it coming!

We are working to make Zoom “easier” too. Our stock of tech instruments (tablets, laptops and phones) for teachers isolated at home had to be addressed and purchased. Additionally, there have been internet issues with a couple of teachers who have sought other safe venues to isolate for their classes. Safety is our primary concern, which is why no student is admitted to an unsupervised environment, hence the “Waiting Room” feature on Zoom.

Why Zoom AND YouTube? Many New Ballet students have no broadband access in their neighborhoods or accessible technology at home. YouTube can be downloaded at hotspots and archived for study at home. We are also working on Digital TV links and Facebook to address Digital inequity in Memphis. 

Emails: You are receiving many emails, from New Ballet and other sources, and we are working to streamline these as we settle into the scheduling and technology.  Thank you for your patience. There are emails from Kathy in addition to the Saturday regular email normally meant for rehearsal updates. Unfortunately, we must continue both right now as there is only a 50% open rate on the Saturday email.

Attendance: Student wellbeing is another primary concern. We hope to learn from students during circle time. What do they need, crave, and how? What are they enjoying and how can we employ what we all have learned from this experience when we come back together?

Is attendance “mandatory”? Personally, I have learned to dislike the word “mandatory." It sounds like imprisonment, and I think that we can all agree that we feel confined in many ways right now. In the course of Nut Remix, yes, we have to have mandatory rehearsals and classes because, simply put, the art of performance is a team (ensemble) sport.

Some students levels 4-7 will be offered the chance to perform in a “virtual” Springloaded.

  • IF THEY CHOSE TO PERFORM (optional) then they MUST be present. We have no way around that.
  • If they opt not to, classes are still HIGHLY recommended. We must phone and check in when absences become prevalent in order to . . .
  1. Assure there are no technical issues that we can help solve and that you have received notifications.
  2. Assure that young folks alone at home are not opting out when a parent has requested that they be “present”.
  3. Check in to understand if kids are sad - - because many are, and dance is a way to feel more like themselves*.
  4. LATE JOINING ON ZOOM? The door is open, no judgement. All children are welcome with open arms.
  • “Children being out of school for such a long time has significant implications for a child’s well-being, and this poses a different kind of challenge for all of us, as communities and as a state." – Penny Schwinn, TN Commissioner of Education
  • “Art has the role in education of helping children become more like themselves instead of more like everyone else.”* - Sydney Gurewitz Clemens

Here are some resources for Arts Leaders that I thought you, as parents, might find interesting.

National Guild for Community Arts Education

Nine Steps for Arts Leaders Navigating a Crisis

Please know that WE CARE and that YOU are deeply appreciated.

Gratefully, Katie


All Classes - Attendance is improving and so is security.

An important note on Zoom security!

As many of you know, Zoom has been transparent about the need to improve security.  We have been monitoring articles, their online blog and listening to parent feedback as well as testing certain features of the program to improve the security of our virtual classrooms - - with the clear goal of keeping our students safe!

As a result of this work, we are implementing three new protocols for logging into our virtual classrooms.

  1. The “waiting room” feature - - Students will not be allowed into the classroom until the teacher officially “starts” the class.  What you will see before the class begins is a note stating “Waiting for the host to start the meeting”.  Once the meeting starts, the host will allow each student into the class individually.  Next, you will see “Please wait, the meeting host will let you in soon”.   With this feature enabled, a class will not be held without a teacher present. 
  2. We will begin requiring a password to enter all classes.  The password will be included in the email near the meeting ID.  This will add an additional step for logging into class.
  3. All classes moving forward will have an additional NBE staff person assigned to each class for check-in at the beginning of class. 

As we move deeper into using the Zoom platform, please know that your feedback as parents and as users is very helpful.  Please don’t hesitate to share or let us know of any ways to continue to improve the safety of our virtual classrooms. Please email marc [at] newballet [dot] org with any questions.

Thank you!

April 03, 2020

Dear All - I visited the studio yesterday to pick up children's books to read online, and who did I see? Mr. Washington  . . . alone of course, at the desk awaiting a delivery of ipads so that three New Ballet TA's can upgrade their technology at home to present classes online. In the midst of our current united struggle, I am OVERWHELMED with gratitude for the New Ballet Team, and that includes YOU!

PLEASE CHECK YOUR EMAILS FOR CLASS TIMES. We have had low attendance, and worry that some may not be receiving the communications. Of course, this is a difficult time, and your family has many priorities. We just want you to know that the offering is available and that the class format begins this week.

We are grateful to the students for their feedback this past week during "Circle Time". Clearly, there is a feeling of sadness due to the loss of routine, exercise, emotional expression and connections to Teaching Artists and friends. We see our beloved students lightening up a bit with each connection. As we ramp up our work for online classes next week, I am . . .

 - grateful to YOU for your patience with the process and remaining flexible.

- grateful to donor parents who have stepped up to make extraordinarily kind offers to support the TA's and this process that includes added expenses for technology, as well as the resource of time.

 - grateful to Marc Willis and John Washington for leading the implementation of Zoom Pro.

- grateful to the program team for the design, including a format where the students see which studio they are in :)

- grateful to the entire team for remaining calm, carrying on, working overtime to implement curriculum online and to the TA's for carefully designing their lesson plans around the constraints of dancing at home.

Lastly, please make an effort to support the New Ballet virtual gala as you can through social media and sharing with friends and family, especially those who have been to the Nut Remix! We need the support to make it through these hard times. Understanding that gifts may be smaller than usual, we HOPE that the ability to add more participation will make up for (perhaps) modest gifts this year. 

  • 64% of our students reached weekly are from low in come households and dance at not cost to their families (thanks to New Ballet donors).
  • We raise 60% of our 1.7mm budget (thanks to our donors)
  • Tuition fees cover 28% of our annual expenses.

The most important thing I can relay in this letter today is gratitude and the abundance of it.

  • English– Thank you, Thanks

  • Hebrew– Toda (toh-dah’)

  • Ghanan- (pronounced 'me-daa-si')

  • Spanish– Gracias

  • French– Merci (Thank you very much= Merci Beaucoup)

  • Italian– Grazie

  • Japanese– (Domo) Arigato (ah-ree-gah'-toh) or written ありがとう

  • Chinese– do jeh, daw-dyeh

  • German– Danke sehr

  • Thai– Khop Khun Mak Kha

Love, Katie

March 23, 2020 (Updated 5:11pm)

Hello Families and Dancers,

By now you should have received two communications: Please also visit this page for Online Resources.

1) An email from Kathy Coburn with links to a first class for your level (Levels 2, 4, Youth Hip Hop and Jookin)

2) The weekly Saturday update parent mailing with examples of those classes included for your review.

Tomorrow is the final day that staff will be allowed in the studios. No employees have been in the buidling since Thursday other than Marc Willis. New Ballet was sanitized top to bottom with a coronavirus killing disinfectant this morning. Teaching Artists are wrapping up Ballet 1, 3, 5, Pointe, boys Technique, Fundamentals and 6/7 classes as we BY TOMORROW.

Moving Forward With Caution: A stay at home executive order was given by our Mayor effective March 24 6pm.

Our current plan (and this means as of today) includes:

1) "Circle time" with each class via Zoom - We will attempt these calls during regularly scheduled class time at least 1x per week. There is general understanding of our need for time to get this up and running. We hope that you agree  . . . and thank you!

2) 15 minute consultations with Teaching Artists for levels 4-7; by appointment - TBA

3) Creating more classes from home on Zoom as we are able to purchase the larger capacity Pro version

4) Individual evaluations sent by the Teaching Artists to their students so that they can apply during this time,

Please stay tuned here for latest updates. Many thanks for you support during this time. We are concerned about our students and are prioritizing our communication with them.

Gratefully, Katie

Updated March 20, 2020

Dear Families,

New Ballet is ready to send weekly resources for ballet study at home including lesson plans, videos, links and messages from your teachers. We are observing safety precautions in the building, including a professional COVID-19 sanitizing of all surfaces by Servicemaster.

Once these resources are distributed, we will create online check ins and Q and A with teachers. 

Reminder: We follow Shelby County Schools on closings (until further notice). 

Are you receiveing our weekly Family E-Newsletter? If not, sign up HERE!

Updated March 17, 2020

Dear New Ballet Families,

Amidst concerns regarding COVID-19, we have decided to temporarily close our studios. Our closure policy is aligned with Shelby County Schools, and our plan is to resume classes accordingly. We will keep you updated should anything change in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we will be exploring options for remote learning and will post resources on this page.

There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 within our organization. We are closing as a precautionary step in order to limit the spread of the virus, and to comply with the CDC’s recommendation for social distancing.

The Building Brighter Future’s Luncheon, which was originally scheduled for April 2, will be postponed and a new date will be announced in the coming weeks. Additionally, regarding the remainder of our spring events, decisions are being made alongside our venue partners, and we will keep you updated as plans become solidified. The health and safety of our students, families, and supporters is our number one priority.

For updates and to stay connected, visit our website at newballet.org or follow us on Instagram @new_ballet_ensemble and Facebook at New Ballet Ensemble and School. We will continue to send updates via email as well.

We appreciate your continued support during these uncertain times. We hope that you and your families are well, and we look forward to welcoming you back soon.

Best wishes,

New Ballet Staff

To prevent the spread of this illness or other illnesses, including the flu, please remind your children to:

  • Avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth,
  • Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,
  • Cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing,
  • Keep children home when they're sick, and
  • See a doctor if you think you or members of your family are ill.