Teaching in a New World: Queen Emma Ballet

Virtual Interview: Suzanne Rowland, Managing Director, Queen Emma Ballet

What has been your company’s latest pivot or innovation? 

Queen Emma Ballet’s big pivot was going from classes at our studio locations to totally online live stream instruction. Our latest pivot is devising a means to produce our annual year-end production, typically done at Palikū Theater. As of now, we are planning to create our own video performance for the screen sized stage with all the opportunities and limitations that entails. 

What has been your company’s latest opportunity or opportunities? 

Two opportunities have arisen. We have learned that live streamed classes have some positive aspects. This gives us the opportunity to continue instruction in a nimbler way, especially with physical distancing requirements limiting how many can gather in a space. As such, streaming will likely continue to be a regular part of our curriculum. It allows us to have some students come to the studio while others take class from home. So, streaming presents an opportunity to increase our ability to deliver instruction to our dance ‘ohana.

The other opportunity arose out of our staff’s need to reinvent operations quickly by collaborating regularly. That let us get to know each other in ways that didn’t really happen before. Each instructor, with his/her own unique experiences, thoughts and mindsets, brings so much of value to our collective “brain trust.” As a result, I feel we are stronger as an institution, and that it is something important to continue. 

How has your company’s experience been with any level of government during this crisis?

We are so fortunate to have received funds from the Payroll Protection Program. And our bank, American Savings Bank, has been awesome in helping us with the process. We have not dealt directly with any government agency. The paperwork involved for both the loan application and now loan forgiveness application can be a bit daunting but well worth the effort. 

In what ways do you think your business will be different at the end of this year? 

Lots of unknowns on that front, but we are currently planning to resume physically distanced classes in our fall term, likely combined with live streaming, which brings both equipment and internet service provider costs, meaning more overhead costs. Classes will be adapted to physical distancing needs and increased sanitation measures will be in place as long as necessary.

We’ve learned adapting is key. While it is difficult to predict what will be different at the end of the year, I can confidently say we are striving to adapt as quickly as circumstances change. The big question for us, and all schools, is enrollment, which takes years to build. Will enough parents feel comfortable having their children return to classes so that operating expenses can be met?

All of us who aren’t supported by grants or state funding operate with a small profit margin in order to provide as much value as possible at an affordable price. Consequently, we don’t have a lot of reserves. Fewer students for more than a short time with increased overhead is a big challenge. Especially in the arts, it’s never about making a lot of money, it’s about sharing our passion. 

In what ways have you been able to support the broader community beyond your employees and customers? 

We have created a series of free creative movement videos called “The Ziggle Zone.” We wanted to create something fun for younger kids and for their parents to use as a resource when stuck inside. It’s a super fun, engaging way for little ones, age 3 to 7, to discover their creativity through movement. We’ve had a parent from California tell us how much she loved it. Instructor, Ms. Beth, with four children of her own, is able to tap into a child’s imagination right through the screen. “The Ziggle Zone” can be accessed on our website queenemmaballet.com. Look for the “Free Classes” tab and click on “Creative Movement.” We hope everyone enjoys the classes – I did!

Categories: Education, Leadership