Training abroad, working with Fred Astaire Dance Studio and Going Independent: Martin Skupinski

Samantha StoutMay 11, 2020Ballroom Chat: Episode #5
Ballroom Chat #5: Martin Skupinski
A conversation with Martin Skupinski from BallroomUtah. We talk about Martin's start internationally, coming to Canada and the US, getting a start in teaching at Fred Astaire and owning an independent studio in 2020.
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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Samantha: Good morning, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Monday morning coffee talk. I'm your host Samantha, and with me today is the amazing, the one, the only Mr. Martin Skupnski owner of Ballroom Utah.

Martin: Good morning everyone.

Samantha: So, hopefully everyone has had a wonderful weekend. We are enjoying the wonderfully warm weather we're having, at least here in Utah, if you're parts elsewhere in the country. Today we're going to talk with Martin about training internationally, coming to the US and then, as you can see behind him if you're watching this live, the, pros and cons, I guess, or the joys and frustrations of owning a dance studio in the year 2020.

How did you get started in Dance?

Samantha: So let's get started with kind of your background. You originally are from Poland, trained and got your ballroom start in Poland. Tell me a little bit about that.

Martin: Well, most of you probably know that my dancing actually started with ice skating, so I took some ice skating lessons and, um, while training, uh, in ice skating in most countries, now you also have to train in other forms of some kind of dancing or gymnastics. So, um, I, you're supposed to take some other classes. So I decided to take some ballet classes, which I absolutely did not like because I was the middle kid.

So. It's okay. I probably would like it now. Um, then I tried to modern hip hop and then ballroom was actually the most fun and slowly from ice skating actually switched to ballroom because it wasn't as demanding. And what the mean demanding is you didn't have to be on the rink at six in the morning for two hours, then go to school and come back, then go to the rink, then go through your lessons.

So most dance classes for. Regular dancing with jazz in the evening and only a couple of times a week. So it wasn't as demanding. So as a kid, you know, I was just being lazy.

Samantha: Well, and I imagine too, not having the ice skating background, but having spent a lot of time in ballet and modern and jazz and now ballroom, I imagine that when you hit the ground, it's fewer and far between in a dance class and it tends to be a little bit softer then

Martin: Only one. The only one time. Um, I fell when jumping so hard that I hit my head. Like you, you flipped backwards and then you see stars. I mean, actually, you know how people say the stars? I actually saw like a blackness and stars. I don't think I lost consciousness, but it hurt. But I mean, that's not why I quit. I quit because it was just too much for a little kid to, to do it. But I loved regular dancing ever since. And um, I've been actually, we were talking. Uh, to one of the teachers, uh, last weekend, last week. And, uh, they asked me, when did I start teaching? And my first diploma from the marathon that I danced in 31 and a half hours, um, is from 1987. So I was teaching in like 86, 87. Um, I started full time though in 1990 when I moved to Canada and worked for, Fred Astaire.

Samantha: I was gonna say, so that's, that's when the transition happened. So let me see if I remember this correctly. You moved from Poland to Canada originally for college?

Martin: Actually, I moved to Germany first.

Samantha: Okay. So you went to Germany?

Martin: I lived in Germany. I worked in at work and studied a little bit in Heidelberg. Um, but, uh, most people don't know about political, um, happenings in then. When the Berlin wall came down. Germany stopped giving asylums and Mmm. Permits do live and work too. Eastern Europeans, that was called Eastern Europe, and Poland is in the central Europe, but that's okay. Um, geographically, so therefore, I wasn't allowed to stay in Germany anymore, and Canada was still taking immigrants. So then I moved to Canada 1990. And so this is what happened. So let me, let me tell you story actually. Funny story. I don't think I ever tell people things like that. It's kind of boring, but maybe it's not.

Samantha: It's interesting.

Martin: I took this bus, I stayed with my friends that I met in Germany. Actually. I met this family in Germany and they moved to Canada and they went to London, Ontario. I didn't really have any plans of being there, but because I knew somebody that was a nice place to stay. They had kids my age. Um, I was actually friends with the parents, even though they have kids my age. So now you guys know what kind of person MARTIN is, and so they go, okay, get on this bus, go to this address. You go in and you registered for your, um, university and English as a second language, because I did not speak English.

So you go to university and you take your English classes, plus some other electives, like math and things that are super easy. Hmm.

Samantha: Mmm.

Martin: If you had some kind of previous degrees, because if you didn't, and obviously that would be very difficult with foreign language. Um, so I get off the bus and the first building on the corner, it's Fred Astaire dance studio with a big signs we're hiring. And the second building is a university building. So I actually pass the Fred Astaire. I went in and I started, I signed up for all this classes and things and then I went back outside the building. I walked in and applied to teach. Mmm. Since I Samba with my rights, foot forward, et cetera. The lady asked me and we had difficulty communicating cause I do not speak English at the time. And uh. Uh, she asked me to dance with her and I stepped on her because she started back on her right and I step forward. So I did the international style. And so then she looked at me, Oh, European. And then we danced then pretty much. I got hired, interestingly enough, um, Canada has a really good social system, so my schooling is free.

Not only that, because I didn't have any family and any income. They allowed me to work. Part time, go to school part time and paid for my schooling and my housing for three months, I think. So I decided to actually teach full time and skip the school. However, uh, dancing has been great ever since.

Samantha: Yeah. And, and I think, um, that's, that's so interesting how fate kind of just was like, here's the path. This is the path that we have predetermined for you. It would have been very easy for you to walk past the Fred Astaire and go straight to college, and your life would have been completely different.

Martin: A hundred percent a hundred percent, now interestingly enough, my parents were very upset about this. Both of them have degrees and my dad has doctor in economy. So me not having a college degree, um, and then having a job that was almost to them physical work and not a desk job or, or, or using your intellect was very difficult. Until my mom came to visit me in Canada after I opened my studio. And when she came in, she came in the morning and I have a beautiful office. I mean, really like beautiful office. My dance partners boyfriend at the time, Terry, uh, was working for a leasing company and they actually lease the equipment to big corporations and they had some left over beautiful cherry desks and computers. So when you walked into my office, it looked like I was, you know, CEO of fortune 500 company. And so my mom was so happy to see that her son actually had a real job, even though me sitting behind it as

Samantha: window dressing with enough to be like, okay, he's, he's doing all right for him.

Martin: Yeah. So that was very nice. And so, um, I've lived in Canada for four years and then Forest Vance introduced me to Antionette Dob, the owner of Fred Astaire corporation in Arizona, and I moved to the United States.

Samantha: Okay. So the studio, the, did you own a franchise for Fred Astaire in Canada? Before you opened a franchise?

Martin: No, not yet. Okay. Yeah, no, I worked for Fred Astaire, uh, for one year. Um, we have conflict conflict of interest, uh, with the owner of the studio, my partner and I and him. And, uh, so we opened our own studio and had that for a couple of years.

Samantha: Gotcha, gotcha. So you had an independent studio in Canada and then were approached and introduced. Okay.

Martin: We actually called it the national school of dance. It sounded really fancy,

Samantha: very important sounding.

Martin: We were a couple of 20year old kids running your own business.

Samantha: That's awesome. We have a question from the chat. What is Fred Astaire? So, Fred Astaire obviously is named after the amazing dancer. I believe he, and correct me if I'm wrong, he and his wife originally started it, correct. So it is a franchise system. There are two main franchises in the US, there's Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire that kind of had a large amount of name recognition. And just like with any franchise like subway or McDonald's or anything else that you're probably more familiar familiar with, um, you as a, uh, owner can, can apply to take on the name.

Um, Fred Astaire or Arthur Murray, and the studio will be run as part of their larger global system. Um, there's a methodology. They have their own syllabus that they require, uh, their instructors to teach from and their students to learn from. Uh, they have their own competition, um, kind of slate and schedule that works within the franchise only. Um, so it's, it's a larger dance family, and I believe, I know Fred Astaire has now gone internationally. I think. Arthur Murray,

Martin: and they have been for a long, long time because, especially mine, especially if you talk about Canada. Um, but there is Arthu Murrays and Fred Astaires in Europe, in Germany. Um, I don't know if there was one in England, but definitely in Germany, I think Australia and things and places. Um, however, so now that we talk about, Fred Astaire starting. Um, yeah, I don't remember exactly, but let's say just, I mean, we could check the facts and then correct us please. So we don't disturb distributes fake news. Um, Fred Astaire, I think, opened his studio in New York. And, um, and again, I don't remember, but he actually created the system of teaching and he thought that would be very nice for Stu, for people to come and learn how to ballroom dance.

And so he ran his first training class. What's a training class is you got a bunch of people that already know how to dance and then you train them to be teachers. You tell them how to teach, you tell the ladies and men's part. Mmm. In his training class in the first training class, and the first dance studio was a lady called Shirley's Dangler, and I don't think that was her last name at the time.

That's probably her husband names, but Shirley went in and decided to become a dance teacher. So Shirley goes, Fred Astaire is her teacher to become a dance teacher. She took notes in the little booklet. She become a dance teacher. She's teaching a private lesson. So this young gentleman who wanted to learn to dance and go out dancing fraternizing it's usually look upon us, but they fall in love, get married, moved to Japan when he is an engineer all their lives, they live abroad.

In 1997 after he passed away, Shirley's Dangler walked into my Fred Astaire dance studios in Sun City West where she retired. And brought her booklets from 50 years earlier when she wanted to be a dance teacher and she goes, I have this notes here. The foxtrot is walk, walk side together. Let's review it.

I have pictures of, Shirley I should have had it. We talked about Fred Astaire. Um, Shirley actually danced with me as a students for many, many years and competed, but she was one of the first dance teachers at Fred Astaire Dance Studio. So that was kind of like it, like a fun thing that's really happened.

The evolution of dance and the use of Youtube

Samantha: That's amazing. That's amazing. How different was the syllabus at that point? Because over 50 years. Probably dramatically changed. So.

Martin: Correct. Right. And it has been redone many, many times. So, but you know, if you think of the basic waltz and then Chacha and Rumba and swing, they did not change.

Samantha: Yeah.

Martin: I mean, they evolved. Technically. We obviously, when you're watching videos from the sixties and seventies. Umm Hi Ron Montez. Um, you know, uh, the, the dancing was much, much different. This styling was, and I tell people often this is part of why I like being in our business. Um, we can continue to learn. We continue to bring coaches to the studio.

You know, learn a little different arm style little fans from Thomas Mielnicki, you know, Oh, you flip your hand, you flip your pinky. That was kind of fun. I've, you know, I've been doing it for a long time and all of a sudden somebody tells me something new. Super, really fun and exciting to learn something new and continue for the rest of your life. Maybe.

Samantha: Absolutely. Absolutely. And to echo that, I think that our industry and then the creative arts industries are one of the few areas where you do have that opportunity where there's never a medal that you will get, that someone says, okay, you've learned it all, you're done. Now. You always are continuing to evolve as the style and the art form evolves.

Um, I was watching a workshop by Shirley Ballas. A couple of weeks ago. Um, she's currently, or was a former judge on strictly come dancing, which is dancing with the stars, the UK version. She's also just an incredible, incredibly renowned dancer. Um. She, uh, if you go back and watch videos of her when she was competing with Corky and then watch her style today, it is completely different. And it might be just the fact that she has had so many more years now to, uh, to grow and adapt and change her style, or it's a reflection of how much Latin has changed over the last 20 years. Um, but it's, it's like watching two completely different dancers. And I think. Even at her level, you know, now coaching, but pretty much retired.

The fact that she's still continuing to grow and adapt and learn and change is, is really just a Testament to how much it changes.

Martin: And interesting you mentioned her.

Last week also, we were looking at who should you learn from if you go on YouTube and start searching, and there's lots of really, really bad videos. There's some good ones, there's some incredible ones, like Shirley's are incredible. And what I love about her is that she said, okay, there's the forward Latin walk, but don't take my word for it. There is probably nine or ten ways of doing the same work depending on the person's body.

So if you're learning from somebody and they tell you, Oh, this is the way you're supposed to do it. Try it, but then maybe look for other ways and see which one you like or feel the most comfortable with. Again, this is art, so you cannot do wrong except for if you're doing really wrong. So no heel leads in the rumba.

Samantha: Exactly. There are some major sins that you, you don't want to commit when you're dancing, but as far as the movement themselves, you really, every body is different and every person's life experience is different and that's reflected in how you dance. So train with a bunch of different coaches, figure out what works for you, develop your own personal style, and then go from there.

Um, follow up question from the chat over, uh, 50 years, uh, did the international and American syllabuses get more similar or more different? I personally would say. With, with reference to smooth and standard, they are getting farther and farther apart. Um, with, uh, ma American rhythm and international Latin.

I feel like they kind of, they get really close for a couple of years and then they go really far apart for a couple of years and then they get real close.

Martin: Now let's talk about why that happened. Um. Yeah. Travel has changed. Internet changed society and everything that we know live in the world right now. Those two styles, the international American, in the beginning, we're really, really going far apart because there was not as much contact between Europe and United States. And so then when bunch of Europeans, um, in the eighties and nineties. Bombarded the United States and, and, and, um, it was for many different reasons. The economy was really good in United States, so owning their studio or teaching the United States was much easier than anywhere else. So lots of people will come because if you were trying dance teacher, you just made a better living. Yeah. Okay. Things are changing. Like right now in Poland, like this is shocking to me.

I went, my friends own the dance studio, they teach as many private lessons as we do. You know, I never thought that would be possible because this society just had a different, Mmm mentality. Retired people supposed to just, you know, take care of grandchildren, you know? And that's what I always thought. So I moved here. It's like, Oh, you can go golf and play tennis and take dance lessons. This is fantastic. So. The lifestyle of crazy Americans influence Europe. So now European are learning more American dancers because they're more social and more fun. It's easier to learn, lead and follow. Um, so. In the nineties those styles came very, very close together. Like if you watch American rhythm championships, they were straight legs in the Rumba, you know, and people would win with that because they were Europeans. And they just, looked good

Samantha: And I feel like that's why occasionally you will hear a passing comment that American rhythm is just bad Latin. And, and as someone that's a trained nine dancer, and I'm sure you, especially being a former rhythm champion, take that very personally. It's like, no, they're two different styles,

Martin: But also they are the same because, yeah, international chacha, I want you to watch the nine different chasses. Actually, everybody should learn those because when people say, Oh, international dance on the straight leg. Sometimes lots of times or most of the time and lots of times you actually step and put your weight on the bent knee. You should know all those techniques, not just one, but all of them. Again, the cross training.

Samantha: Yep.

Martin: In both American international, you have a bent and a straight leg. So if you don't know this technique, no matter what kind of dancing you do, you are just bad dancer or you're a good dancer.

Samantha: Yes. Yeah. And I try to explain the difference in a very simple way between Latin and rhythm, because I think that's, I think that's where the, the water gets murky, so to speak. I think it's very easy to look at a standard dance and a smooth dance and recognize that those are, are very different. Um, but I tend to say in, in Latin dancing, the emphasis is on the landing, on transferring your weight on a straight leg.

It doesn't always happen, but you are, the emphasis is landing on the straight leg, but you still have a bent leg action. Whereas in American, if you're doing a hard Cuban action, the emphasis is landing on a bent knee. You still have a straight leg, you still come to a straight leg, but the emphasis is on the bent. Um, but again, American rhythm, I feel like. Of the four different major dance styles. American rhythm is the one that I see that's constantly evolving and changing because it really hasn't, it hasn't settled in the same way that I think smooth and standard have kind of come into their own identity.

Martin: Yup. Well, again, there is now international champions that are becoming rhythm dancers, and you actually watch them and they are doing very good Americans bent knee technique.

Samantha: Yes.

Martin: Um, you know, so they must have practice and change it and like it. And again, uh, it's a, it's a preference thing. So you watch six couples and you go, which one's gonna win? This is an art and it's supposed to be fun.

Running a franchise dance studio

Samantha: Absolutely. So you moved to Phoenix. You become the owner of one Fred franchise, which then becomes three,

Martin: two, and three. And actually I think, and I really never started counting, so, Mmm. Sun city, West sun city, then um, central Phoenix, then Ahwatukee. Then Tucson. So we built w we've, we, we've kept one, but we keep building and training staff and then selling them or, or giving them to managers to run so people have the opportunity in dancing. Um, so when I moved to Phoenix in 94 we had, Mmm. One, two, three locations. And then within that 10 years period when I was there, I think we had 14. And most of them, and I did so lots of them. I actually helped with the training class. So it's funny story because talking about Fred Astaire, Mmm. Training Shirley, and then her coming to me being my students. Um, I actually ran the training class for Fred Astare dance studios for, for all the studios, for Antoinette, who by the way, passed away a couple of years ago with breast cancer.

So she was a really good friend. Mmm. I ran the training class and in my training class there were some crazy people that actually became pretty good, like JT Thomas, you know? And so it's very, very interesting too, to, okay, then I go, Oh, I know all of those people, when they first started, they, lots of the champions come from Arizona.

That's franchise.

Samantha: Yeah. I feel like, uh, if you ever want to very quickly meet people in the industry, you just need to go to a competition with MARTIN because having, having gone now to a couple, you walk in and it's like, okay, this is so and so. This is so and so. I trained so and so. I think I trained your mom. I remember you when you were two. Okay, this is so and so. Oh, I remember you. That's just like, okay. Apparently everyone in this industry knows who MARTIN is.

Martin: They used to, I mean, we don't go as much, obviously, but we're way more social studio right now than I used to be, and so that's kind of nice and fun. Also. Yeah. Social. Uh, should we talk about, um, Galivan center for a second?

Samantha: Yeah. Let's, so let's talk about Galvin. So for those of you that are in Utah, um, the Center for Excellence in the Community puts on a summer concert series every year. It normally starts right around Memorial weekend. Uh, maybe a week before or week after, depending on weather. And then it goes until September, sometimes as late as October, if the weather, every Tuesday and Thursday. And, uh, BallroomUtah, which is the studio that MARTIN now owns in Salt Lake. Uh, sends instructors to teach, uh, a free half hour class at the beginning of the concert series. So with all of this craziness going on, do we know, is the Gallivan Center still doing their concert series?

Are we still going?

Martin: As a matter of fact, they have been doing their concert series because they do it all year round.

Samantha: Right.

Martin: But they do it inside. And so they always have concerts, so they continued the concerts inside. But with limited audience. And so they'd been doing it online, interestingly enough, because they've been doing it online and also people are home and the concerts are really incredible. They actually gain way more audience that they had when the concerts were just live. So there is five to 8,000 people watching those concerts. Now they are only on Saturdays and they will be on Saturdays throughout the summer. So as doing this, we start the concerts in the Galivan center downtown outside.

The concerts will be outside, but they will be, um on Facebook, on zoom, um, different media so people can be at home and participate. We will have a dance lesson from seven to seven 30 like we had, and then concert would be for an hour from let's say seven 30 to eight 30. We encourage everybody to get a partner and learn at home and practice.

If you are by yourself, it's okay. You can still get up and dance. There will be few couples allowed. With social distancing, the masks, we're going to work out the, um, logistics when the whole thing starts in a couple of weeks. But there will be a lesson, there will be concerts, some people will be allowed to come. Probably limited the amount of people, social distancing, et cetera, within masks, do not change partners, et cetera, but basically, yes, there is Gallivan starting in a couple of weeks. I mean, you can already go to excellence in the community on Facebook and start watching those concerts. They're wonderful.

Samantha: Yeah, that was going to be my question with it being out. Outside, are they still going to limit the number of people? And that's good, at least in my opinion. And everybody has different opinions today. I know that. Uh, but for me at least, it sounds good that they are going to adhere to that strict social distancing and limit the number of people in the area, even though it's outside because it's still

Martin: at the park

Samantha: still travels.

Martin: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Samantha: That's awesome. And, uh, if you, if you do go or, uh, if you are watching, um. I'm actually wearing my lovely BallroomUtah tee shirt today. So if you ever see one of these at the Galivan center, then you know that you're part of the BallroomUtah family.

Finding a new dance studio

Samantha: Um, yeah. So, so let's talk a little bit about kind of my, my history with you. Uh, and then I want to get into kind of the nitty gritty of how the studio is doing and how you were adjusting to all of this. So when I moved to salt Lake city, um. Six years ago this fall, maybe it's five, 2015 so, okay. So it's only five. Okay. So when I moved, when I moved to salt Lake city five years ago, uh. Did not know anyone other than my hubby. Um, did not know really anything about the dance scene other than, uh, BYU and UVU. were located in Provo and obviously they are pretty well known for having very competitive dance programs. Um, so I was looking online and this BallroomUtah place kept popping up and Martin had really good reviews, so I called.

It was like two days before your holiday party. Uh, so it was right before the Christmas break. And I call, I call the studio and I say, hi, I'm from Pittsburgh. I'm an instructor out there. I was in an independent studio. I taught the syllabus, just looking to see if I could check out your studio. And you're like, Oh yeah, that's fine. Uh, you'll start on Monday, come to the holiday party, meet everybody. Like, well, what did I just get into?

But I came to the holiday party and met you and met the rest of the staff and met everyone else at the studio. And you were all so lovely and welcoming. And it was just, it immediately felt like the family atmosphere that I had left at my previous studio in Pittsburgh. So I knew it was just immediately going to be the perfect fit. And, uh, for the first three years out here, I taught. As a member of the BallroomUtah staff. And then the last year and a half or so, I kind of branched out and did my own. Uh, I've been doing my own independent thing for LoveLiveDance, but BallroomUtah is still my home studio.

And, uh, I, I just want to commend you on, you know, having such a wonderfully positive atmosphere that you foster.

Martin: Well, and, uh, yeah. BallroomUtah was created. With the need of the community. So I, I mean, I had the place to teach. I was renting a little space, and that was okay, but there were so many teachers coming in and everybody wanted to teach, and there was no place to teach in salt Lake city. I mean, again, they're the other dance places everywhere, but there was no actual dance studio in salt Lake city. So we have no choice but to open it and to open it in the, what we call independent format instead of Fred Astaire Arthur Murray. As a matter of fact, because I worked for Fred Astaire for so many years.

At the moment, I, um, opened a dance studio here. The heads of Fred Astaire, including my friends. It's called. And it's like, okay, you're starting for us there. I'm like, no, I can't, because I have bunch of independent teachers that are just renting space and Fred Astaire doesn't allow it. So they're not as flexible. They are a franchise. You know, when you are McDonald's, you cannot serve. Some specialty that your chef makes, like crepes. Yep. Um, so they don't have crepes or maybe the Paris McDonald's does,

Samantha: I'm sure one of them has crepes on the menu.

Martin: But basically, so Fred Astaire doesn't, it didn't allow to have independent teachers, so we didn't become a franchise, which is nice to have, I must say. Um, I had a very nice time. I mean, everybody that it's like our studio is a little family. Imagine 140 studios and we get together for competitions. Everybody really, really, really knew each other. You know, all those people that. People know, you know, like Tony Dovolani and Max and Karina, we all Fred Astaire. So we knew each other from before, Dancing with the Stars and all those shows as a family of Fred Astaire. Hmm. But now we have a family of BallroomUtah, and, uh, we have people that only work for BallroomUtah, or they're completely independent or 50, 50, like you or whatever. And that's great. I mean, it works for us, so it's wonderful.

Samantha: Yeah. I, I think, um, just for those that maybe aren't as familiar with the difference between franchise and independent, so franchise, um. When you are an instructor, you are a W2 employee, you are their staff member. You're required to be onsite, certain number of hours you are given students to work with. And essentially you, you are a worker for, for the studio. Uh, an independent studio. Can operate a couple of different ways. When we use the term independent, it really just means not franchise. So you could be completely on your own. You could be teaching from a specific syllabus. Um, some independent studios still have staff members, so they still have W2 employees that are on payroll.

You are an employee, you work normal hours. Um, and then other studios, and I think this is the vast majority, especially in the U S um, we are all considered independent contractors. So, uh, that from an instructor standpoint is great because it gives us the flexibility to work the hours that we want. We can take on clients that we really want to work with, or we can have the freedom to decline clients that for whatever reason, aren't in our best interest to work with. Um, and from a studio owner perspective, I mean, that gives you the flexibility to have many different. Uh, instructors that are associated with your studio that teach a variety of different specialties so that you can really offer a huge amount of service to the community that's interested in taking lessons without having to take on the overhead associated with having those people considered weekly staff

Martin: Weekly staff. Yeah. Especially with, uh, dancers that are, um, uh, popular in the small groups like West coast swing, Lindy Argentine tango, Salsa and bachata. Correct. Like there's some people that only know how to salsa. They don't know. They know how to cha cha and Rumba and waltz because that's all the related, and we're not going to disillusion them. So they really know more dances, but they think they're only like the one dance and they're only know that then. That's wonderful. And we do have the specific instructors and or classes, or we have, and we're going to resume them, um, as soon as possible. So one downturn, I guess for being independent was when the pandemic hits were all out of jobs.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. So, so let's talk about that. Um, so. I stopped teaching March 16th. Uh, I think the state of Utah officially went into stage five or red code or whatever. We're calling it a stay home, stay healthy mode, uh, later that week. Um, during that time, um, obviously gyms and fitness centers are intended to be closed. Um, nail salons, hair salons are not supposed to be practicing. Uh, in the last. Week, I guess as of May 1st, um, those restrictions have now limited or how have now, uh, lifted a little bit, at least for for Utah, um, where we can resume one-on-one, but we still need to maintain social distancing. Um, I know for my students, I'm requiring them to wear a face mask during the entirety of their lesson and I am not doing any hands on instruction, which is very weird. I'll be honest.

Running a dance studio during covid-19

Samantha: How have you as a studio kind of adapted to that model?

Martin: So lots of people decided to teach online and, you know, if private group classes and things like that, and I apologize that I haven't done this. Um, not that I couldn't, but what instead I decided to remodel the studio. Um, there were little tiny things that the studio needed, updates and, or fixes. And, uh, we knew we had to do it, and we were planning on maybe using a whole weekends and shutting one side down for a week, et cetera, and working on it. Um, and that would have made our life very, very difficult, uh, when we were in the full operation.

Uh, but. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this condemning gave us opportunity to fix the studio. Um, the dance floor, the bathrooms, paint. Um, there's throw away a bunch of stuff. You guys, when you come, and if you've been here before and then you come and you might not feel all of that that we've done, but, um, this big garbage in the back has been pulled three times. Of the stuff that we had in studio. I don't know from where, I mean, I don't know what it was. Stop bringing things to us and going, Hey, can you use this for your dance studio, because we take it because I don't want to throw it away and then we probably don't use it, so don't bring anything. I'm cleaning house.

Mmm. Probably five or six years ago, um, some of the plumbing in the building, um. Got plugged up and a water came from underneath and flooded. So I don't know if you, if you've been here, then you remember we had some little bumps in the dance floor that are no longer there. I did not take the whole floor and redid it. Um, we just cut out a little squares in the dance floors and shaved off the plywood underneath, because our floor floor is floating and spring. There's bunch of layers. That's why it's nice and soft. Mmm. So we, Mmm. Shaved some of the plywood, made it nice and flat. So the floor is as flat as we could have gotten it without completely have to remodel it then maybe wish I didn't do it, but we did stain it a little redder than what it was before.

Do you like it?

Samantha: I love it. I love the floor because it's darker, which I always appreciate in a floor. I don't know if it's intentional or not, but the old floor had kind of this glossy finish that I felt like just hugged dust, whereas this is much more matte and I was dancing on it and I loved it. It was so much better.

Martin: It's not as fast. The other one was much faster. It was, allumium-oxide finished on it. I think as pronounced that correctly. Um, right now is just regular water based. Um, that floor finish from bono. And we went with Supermatte. So it's not just matte, it's like Supermatte. Then I think um, semi-gloss gloss. I think we had semi-gloss before. Yeah. So we went with the matte first of all, to see if we can not be as slippery

Samantha: Yes.

Martin: As it was before. Cause lots of people. That weren't as good dancers, um, complained that the floor is slippery and talk to us about that. If you ever go somewhere and go, okay, why am I sliding all over? Why cannot keep my balance? It's because you're not pushing off your standing leg and you not put enough pressure in the moving, like, et cetera. We work with you on that, so please let us know. You can have a hard time. Um, so what is fun about this? Now the couple of the other ballrooms, the floor is not refinished.

So now we have. Uh, slippery medium and nones literally floors so. If you traveling around for your lessons, see which floor are you, leg, which one's comfortable for you? And depending on the dance. Also, I think the Westies West coast swing, um, Kim's and James' students really like the slippery ones. So they go in the back, um, for smooth. It's wonderful to have semi slippery with some stickiness. The Latin Latin people. Like it really, really sticky so they can, push off. It's not good for your knees to be too sticky. So I think we're okay. Um, so what I don't like about the matte finish, it shows the dust. All I do all that we're going to do now.

Not just me everybody's going to have to sweep and wipe the floor as much as possible, especially when winter comes. And the salt is outside. The salt on the dark floor with a matte finish. Really, really show. So we apologize if it doesn't always look perfect. We're going to try to, well, maybe that will force us to clean more often.

So the floor has been redone. Yes.

Samantha: Yes.

Martin: Should we kind of, I'm going to grab this camera and walk around so we can, we can kind of show it. I was going to have it the surprise, but we might not. Oh, so we have a great idea. As soon as all of this is open. All over. Instead of having a masquerade ball, we're going to have a D masquerade comes off. So the mask is the dark, dark floor.

Samantha: Yes. So for those of you that are listening to this in the podcast form after the live stream, um. The main ballroom space at BallroomUtah is a 3000 square feet. Uh, it's a lovely long space, and the floor is now kind of this cherry red matte finish color, which I absolutely adore. Uh, all of the walls have been refinished and repainted with. A lovely, soft gray color. Um, the photos or the, the art pieces that you see in the background, if you're watching this, uh, on a live stream are by a local artist called Pam Nielsen. Uh, she's partnered with BallroomUtah to treat it almost like her second art studio space.

So we get, we have the luxury of having fantastic artwork on the walls when we're, when we're dancing and teaching. Um, and then there are new curtains that have been put up. Black and gray stripes on the far wall to cover up where, uh, the cinder block wall is

Martin: We could have painted, but I think it looks very elegant. It looks like a ballroom, would it?

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And then, um, for those of you that have previously been in the space, uh, you know, that the bathrooms, because this was a converted warehouse space, the bathroom doors used to be on the front actually facing the dance floor, which was a little bit awkward for everybody. So, um, MARTIN and team have put the bathroom doors on the side and I've kind of created a little alcove to hide the entrance to the bathroom doors, which has been nice.

Martin: Oh, by the way, ladies, I got you a bigger mirror in the bathroom and then I'm going to put a full size mirror on that. On that wall. Um, yes, there's a pocket door, but it looks very nicely.

I put this very heavy duty lock on that, so yeah, it locks well. Um, so yeah, you don't see the bathroom doors. There's more mirrors now too. So you know when, when you're having a lesson and everybody was kind of gathering over there where the big, big mirrors are. So now hopefully they can, um, also do it in front of here. Um, the junior ballroom also has been painted, so got it.

Samantha: One of the benefits to the space at BallroomUtah's, there's also two extra, we call them junior ballrooms. There's one that's like a 30 by 30 space. Um, which is great for when I have wedding clients. I like to use the junior the small, the smallest junior ballroom cause it feels a little bit less intimidating. But that is also been repainted, which is quite nice.

Martin: And so this is going to be the painting or picture ballroom where all the dance pictures are going to go. Um, so all of our competition and performance, et cetera, pictures, I don't know if you can see it yet. This one already hanging. The whole box is sitting up. So this room is going to be full of pictures from shows and competitions.

Samantha: Yep. And then there's a farther ballroom that we won't show on camera. Uh, that also looks very nice. That's kind of a medium size, that's, that's a good, uh, practice space for when you're working on competition routines and you want something that's a little bit more condensed and a little bit more private.

So, um. Yeah. I love that. Uh, we have a follow up question. So we referred to the floor as floating and sprung. Um, just a couple of differences between the two of those. So, sprung floors normally have either layers of plywood or layers of foam and plywood, so that way sprung is in the name. As you step down, it compresses and it kind of takes some of the pressure off and then it'll bounce back up.

Floating just means that it's not nailed down or attached to the floor. So that way, um, as the temperature changes, the floor will expand or contract, um, which puts less wear and tear on the boards itself. Um, and again, it just gives a little bit of a, uh, air pocket between the concrete, which is in what most of these spaces are and the floor that you're dancing on.

So again, it gives a little bit of cushion.

Martin: Our floor actually has, um. The, the, the rubber on the bottom. Then two layers of plywood. Then, um, special wax paper in between this, because in order for it to be floating or floating, um, you need that something otherwise would with stuck on the. Um, there's a layer of wax heavy do the paper than the floating floor on top.

So it's like one, two, three, four, five layers of things. That's why when you come in, all the floors have a little, like when you're in the lobby, and then there's that much difference between, um, as this and this floor. Um, yeah. And then. They're both, they're all spring, but the main ballroom is floating. Those are not floating.

The other two ballrooms are just. They're actually nailed to the plywood, but they're still the rubber, the plywood with the floor. But the floor is nailed into the plywood, so it's not floating. But. still sprung

Samantha: It's still sprung. Yeah. And, and that's really the both having it floating and sprung or just having one or the other is really important because it's all about impact resistance. Right. Um, if you are teaching and you're dancing hard for eight hours a day, five days a week, or six days a week. or seven days a week, however many, however often you're teaching, that's a lot of impact that you're putting into your knees and your hips and your back, and just all of your joints. Um, and if you're dancing and you're competing and you're training a lot, that's also a lot of impact.

So we want to make sure that we are protecting our bodies as much as possible. The other thing with most studios in the U S and it sounds like this is broadening out to studios internationally as well. We are mainly teaching adults. We're teaching, um, folks that are potentially in their sixties, seventies, eighties. Nineties upwards. Uh, so

Martin: Jean it was her, I don't know if you guys followed up on Facebook. Jean's birthday, 95th birthday was last Tuesday, a week ago, and we did a little parade for her, so it was really, really fun.

Samantha: You know, she absolutely adores when you keep pointing out her age right.

Martin: Well, it was announced on Facebook and you know, there were signs, so now people can see it. So

Samantha: Yeah, we have a couple of students, uh, at BallroomUtah that are in their nineties or close to their nineties. Um, so we want to make sure that we're protecting them as much as possible too. So having those extra cushions, uh, underneath the floor really helps with that. So. That's the difference between the sprung and floating.

Martin: You probably can feel if you come on Friday night and you dance for a couple of hours, let's say you come to the group classes like we normally had, and dance for an hour and then dance for another two hours of the social and stay for the Latin, you know, and dance till one in the morning. So if you dance for for, two, three, four hours.

The next day, yes, you will be sore muscle wise, but you should be okay. Versus if you go and we love Gallivan center and we love going to the Hangar Hangar Dance for the, um, forties or fifties dance, but they're all cement floors with maybe a plastic portable floor on top of it. It's not sprung, it's not floating. It's kind of sticky. You will, I feel some pain the next day, especially if you over, um, you know. 25 or so. Actually, no, the pain started around 30. I think I was 33 when I discovered the first pains. Unfortunately, I didn't, I probably knew, but we weren't paying attention. You know, when you're young and you don't care because, yeah, you're never gonna hurt. What do you mean hurt? I don't hurt. Um, I worked for lots of dance studios or coached for dance studios that the owners wouldn't teach. And therefore they didn't. And they had young staff and people weren't coming as much, um, or as many hours when they were old adults. And so the floors were just archaic glue to cement, and we didn't feel any pain until you start feeling pain.

And so if you get too much wear and tear, uh, so, um, recently last couple of years I've often get asked to the performances or teach, and that's one of my questions. If I go to a studios, do they have floating or spring floors? Or is it just cement? Then one of the studios I coached at told me that they have a spring floors. They book me 10 hours. After two hours, I couldn't walk because they asked me to choreograph showcases and such, and then we canceled the rest of the day because they didn't know what it meant. So, so interesting. So our floors are nice and springy.

Samantha: Yes, it makes a difference. Um, so, uh, before we, we wrap up, I do want to kind of talk about, cause you touched on it, um, what you think, and I'm not going to have you say like specific dates.

Um. What you think the outlook is going to be as far as resuming group classes and socials, because I know right now we can do one on one private lessons. Um, it's something that I'm kind of struggling with is how many bodies can I have in the room at once. So if I'm doing like a wedding party, do I have the father of the bride sit in the car while I'm teaching the first dance lesson and then have the groom leave and have the father of the bride come in so that I've only got two people that I'm working with at a time.

Martin: Okay. For the social distancing, I think even having. Wait in the lobby and things or, you know, um, I'm even debating. Yeah. I've been debating of maybe putting away, um, the fabric chairs that we have, and we have the, the, the one in the back one, the chairs in the back are plastic and metal and there would be probably easier to wipe.

Samantha: Yep.

Martin: How would they say cotton is like, and I, you know, if we cover everything with cotton, cotton doesn't really, the virus, doesn't like cotton supposedly. So wear cotton don't wear polyester. I mean, again, we've don't know and none of us have a doctor degree. And, um, did any research on the microscope for the coronavirus?

The quote that I'm going to use, and I don't, I've heard it on the news or on the radio, it was, um, a doctor or somebody that specializes in pandemics said, and, and I love this because it refers to us very nicely. It says, we're going to do a little dance. You're going to get on the dance floor and dance a little, and then you're going to get off the dance floor. And then on the dance floor and off the dance floor. So we're going to basically see of what's happening. How is the curve? Um, and I don't know, again, not many people understand why we have the a lock down and why would it, um, what we did, it wasn't because we were worrying about everybody being sick. We probably all gonna get sick one time or the other there is just, we didn't want to overwhelm our health system system.

Samantha: Exactly.

Martin: So that's probably the, and then yes. Not give it to people that have preexisting conditions or, you know, are in the danger zone, of not recovery or having respiratory problems for the rest of the life.

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. Um, the reason why I asked that question. Obviously every state is treating this differently. Um, if you are, I know if you are a dance studio in Pennsylvania, and that's actually one of my guests for next week, um, you are not, according to the governor, allowed to reopen just yet, even though they have switched to a moderate phase because, um, indoor recreation centers have been put on a, a lower tier.

Um, so I know that there are studios across the country right now that want to get back to private lessons, but don't have the ability to. Um, I know there are other States in the country where socials are being allowed to be, to happen. And I know here in Utah at least, um, Summit County came out last week, which is where Park City is located.

Um. And made a statement saying that they find it highly unlikely for large gatherings to be allowed until the end of the year. Um, but I also know that there was a studio who will remain nameless, uh, that had a social Friday night, um, with social distancing guidelines, allegedly, uh, with limited guest list, allegedly.

I don't know how all that went out, and I'm not going to say their name so that they don't get in trouble. Um. But I feel like everyone is taking a different approach to it. You and I have had conversations over the last couple of weeks, and I think we're both on the same page where our client's safety and health comes first, and the business of it comes second.

Uh, obviously neither of us wants to be in a situation where we don't have a business at the end of this. Um, but the, the safety and the health of the community comes first and we'll, we'll adjust and adapt as we need to in order to make sure that that safety is upheld.

Martin: Now, I prefer to just have private lessons. We do have three ballrooms. Correct. So you can have three private lessons at the minimum. Correct. That are completely safe. Uh, we do have, and we'll have more sanitizer. We'll never run out. I have source. Um, so we always had the hand sanitizer. Uh, we have face masks. We have gloves. Every time somebody comes in, I'm wiping the handles, bathrooms, chairs, et cetera. We're keeping it as sanitized as possible. Um, so, um, I would say we're going to do the private lessons. Um, we can probably, yeah. Do up to five private lessons at the same time in the studio. Yeah, 3000 square feet. I mean, you are 50 feet apart. Um, so, um, again, make sure you wash your hands, sanitize, don't touch your face. Wear the mask. You know, we're going to try and see, um, how we're doing. Um, as of right now, none of our students, clients or employees have been sick or tested positive. So, um, let's hope that will continue. Um, make sure you keep safe when you go out in the public because most people are not. Um, I hate to say this.

I see people with their children running around in the store and touching everything, and that's how it's spread. And we know that. Um, so I do wear I do go to a grocery stores or Home Depot to get things. I wear a mask. I wear gloves. Oh, there are disposable. I buy whatever I need. I go in the car and I dispose of those into a bag there. They're never going to see the light of day again. And then I standardize all my purchases, my credit card and everything that possibly was touch with the wipes that I have in the car. And so I try to make sure that I don't get infected, therefore I don't infect others. Yep. Hopefully we'll be okay.

Samantha: Yes. And, and on the note of credit cards, um, I know I have this model and I know you also have this model, um, when you are. Uh, signing up for a private lesson if you are an existing client or if you are a brand new clients. Um, I have an online gift card portal that you can choose to prepay for your lessons. I believe you're using PayPal on the website so you can prepay with lessons that way. That way there's no credit card transaction, current transaction when you're at the studio. So that's just another added layer of protection too.

Martin: I mean, there's sanitizer. We wipe everything, you know. Safe. I mean that alcohol kills everything,

Samantha: including the skin on your hand.

Martin: Yes. We have the sanitizer and then we put some cream and I keep sanitizing the box, so it's kind of funny, you know, because I opened that and like use that and then use the Mmm hand cream. Yes. Everybody, the green working hands is the best. So when you using it, when you feel that your hands, especially if they're gardening.

Oh, you have on a funny note, I did go this weekend and got one ton of rocks for my pathways in the garden in the quarry that I dug myself and carried, and I'm not really as sore as I thought I would be so.

Samantha: Speaking of which, how are the bees doing? So Martin has bees at his house and makes amazing honey. Are they, did they survive the winter or they,

Martin: They're doing well, we wrap them in blankets and cardboard and things to make him the hive warmer over in the winter so they're perfectly fine. And they're making honey. I put the third box on, which is called the a super, where you actually collect the honey. And so they're in there putting some honey. And so as soon as in a couple of months or a month, we will have some fresh honey again.

Samantha: Excellent. Well, the chat seems to not have any other questions for us. Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about before we wrap things up today?

Martin: Just if you guys want to start scheduling private lessons, we're doing that. Mmm. If you need to touch during the lesson, you know. Hard it might be to comprehend than just quickly then sanitize your hands afterwards and don't touch your face. And so we all should be okay. Yeah. If you have a temperature, show symptoms, please stay home these days.

Samantha: Yup. Yeah. We, we as instructors are putting our health and safety in your hands and I know that you are also putting your health and safety in our hands So, uh, the more that we can be honest and transparent with each other, I think. The better. We will all come out through this. Um, yeah. On the point of getting into frame and, and touching during lessons, I was joking with Hannah a couple of weeks ago that this is going to be a really great way for instructors to really hone in on those head positions,

Martin: However, so we do have the hula hoop.

Samantha: Yes.

Martin: I might, you know, maybe that's what I should talk about. Or we have those poles. You can still practice a pressure, you know, and the contact. Um, through those and kind of maybe, you know, this is a great tool to use too during your private lessons with the one on one instructor clients.

Correct. And use the hula hoop because that will give you a, a semi social distancing and still being able to, yeah. Mmm press against that. Then have some kind of contact or we can, you know what? That's a great idea. We're going to come up with a sticks like a pole, six foot long with them, and then they're like T's or I's.They're going to look like I's. I'm talking about belt around it, so we're going to do a contact dancing with a six foot pole.

Samantha: I love it. I love it.

Martin: Isn't that a joke, I wouldn't touch it with a six foot pole.

Samantha: That'll be the next a tick tock challenge for everybody is, can you keep a broomstick lifted while you're dancing?

Martin: Very Good

Samantha: There we go. Well, if you want to get in contact with Martin or find out more about BallroomUtah dance studio, his information is right below him on screen right now. If you're watching the live stream, I'll also include it in our show notes in our YouTube video and on our podcast so you can get ahold of him.

You can find their Facebook page at ballroomUtah. If you just do, or on Instagram at ballroomUtah. You can find out all about how to sign up for classes and any of the goings on and kind of keep an eye on when we can resume social dances and events through there.

So, thank you Martin so much for coming on this morning. Thank you guys for tuning in. Hopefully you have a lovely rest of your week, and we will see you next Monday for Rosana and Terry Sweeney of art and style ballroom in Pittsburgh, PA. They are also NDCA judges and champions in their own right. So excited to talk to both of them to see how Pittsburgh is adapting to all of this and if they have any insights on how the NDCA is going to change competitions moving forward as a result. So, thank you all. Have a wonderful rest of your day and we'll see you next week.