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Huntington dance studio takes to the great outdoors in Lawrence County

By Taylor Burnette

The Ironton Tribune

CHESAPEAKE — A Huntington, West Virginia, dance studio has adapted by taking their classes outside, and across the Ohio River into Chesapeake.
Jessica Fox is the artistic director at 4th Avenue Arts, a dance company, and has taken her classes to a small private lot across from Chesapeake Park to continue sharing her love of dance with her students.

“We’re kind of struggling to come up with creative solutions to serve the community and also just maintain the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the government and try to just kind of keep our head above water right now,” Fox said.

Fox said that the group has just completed its first four-week session outdoors, and plans to do more throughout the summer.

Classes are open to everyone, Fox said. She offers the first class free to new students.

Due to the large outdoor space they are able to utilize, Fox said she and her dancers are spaced out more than the required six feet.

Isla Hall and other dancers during an outdoor dance class of 4th Avenue Arts. (Submitted photos)

The prop master at 4th Avenue built portable, sturdy and affordable dance boards for the dancers to use during their outdoor classes.

“My biggest thing was being able to transport it and making it really cost effective, because … usually dance flooring is so expensive, and I wanted to make sure [that] if people wanted access to it, and they could have access to it, especially because the pandemic is just hitting everyone so hard,” Fox said.

She said that dancing outdoors is a good solution because although it is different from a typical dance space, it allows dancers to stay conditioned and keep their sense of community.

Fox said that although the company has been doing virtual sessions, they became overwhelming over time. Dancing outdoors under the open sky, Fox said, coupled with an amazing support system for the company, has been a silver lining to having to remain closed during the pandemic.

There are concerns when practicing outdoors compared to inside though, Fox said. Her dancers now need sunscreen and bug spray, and now occasionally have to deal with ants on their dance boards.

Dancer Karrah Parsons poses for a photo during an outdoor lesson of 4th Avenue Arts. (Submitted photo)

Other than a few minor details, Fox said, the classes they have are exactly the same as they would’ve been in a studio.

“I mean, the crazy thing is when I now when I talk about extending out … I can actually talk about extending out and reaching up towards the sky,” Fox said, “It’s just like, this beautiful moment of transition that makes sense.”

Fox is not certain when in-person classes will be able to resume, but has been closely monitoring the regulations and guidelines set forth by the government.

“The really hard part about … moving forward as a business owner is, you know, maintaining that six-foot distance in a dance studio is quite impossible, quite honestly,” Fox said. “Also maintaining … a 10-person max at this point and with an instructor that’s, that’s down to nine students. So that’s a little disheartening moving forward.”

Fox said she is willing to do outdoor classes as long as possible, and has been a magical experience thus far.

“It seems like a really good option and a really positive option the kids in general seem to like. they’re just having to be and have had to be inside for a lot more than what they’re used to,” Fox said. “So just the simple fact of getting them outside is kind of an amazing thing and then getting them moving outside and doing something that they love and dancing … Our first night of classes I definitely was like teaching and tearing up and I know some of the parents were too. … It was kind of hard to explain but that energy and like, experience of it was pretty incredible.”
4th Avenue Arts is located at 1030 Fourth Ave. in Huntington, West Virginia. For more information, call 304-697-0602 or visit online at https://www.4thavenuearts.org/