When Kimberley Stewart’s Arabesque Dance Academy in North College Hill (NCH) had to close its doors in March due to COVID-19, the NCH City Schools’ social worker took action right away. While some classes could be held online via Zoom, the studio’s income was down.
“Some parents were being laid off from their jobs,” Kimberley explained. “When parents can’t pay tuition, I can’t pay my studio bills.”
So Kimberley took a second job pulling and delivering groceries with Shipt. “I was there at five or six in the morning doing groceries, and still doing my full time job,” she said. “I was going to make it work.”
County grants available
In May, Kimberley learned about the Hamilton County CARES Small Business Relief Program through an email from the North College Hill Chamber of Commerce. She was skeptical. “I thought I was too small and that they would give this to a business that’s bigger than mine,” she said. “I literally hesitated until the hour before the application was due.”
Fortunately, she did apply and soon found out that she qualified for funding.
Receiving the grant was a big relief. “It actually helped tremendously,” Kimberley said. “I was able to catch up on rent and utilities.” She also hired two more instructors and purchased hand sanitizer and masks for students.
When Arabesque Dance Academy re-opened on June 1, things looked a little different.
There are fewer students per class to meet social distancing requirements. Everyone wears face coverings when inside. And the parking lot is marked off in 6’x6’ squares so classes can be held outside when possible.
Kimberley also noticed something different in her dance students.
“The pandemic did have a big impact on them,” she explained. “And then they started seeing all the other stuff that was going on in the world on the news and hearing their families talk about it. So when they first came in they were excited to be back, but you could tell they were drained and that they had witnessed so much that it had definitely impacted them.”
Dance as therapy
Older students choreographed their own pieces to express how they were feeling. “They have actually been able to tell their stories through the past five months through dance,” Kimberley said. “And we’ve been able to work through that.”
She adds that more adults than usual are taking classes. “And the adults have been using it the same way. Just being able to express themselves and being able to be around other adults and know that they’re in a safe place.”
Kimberley sees other ways the pandemic has impacted students. “I would say between my school kids and my kids at the studio, I’ve noticed that people no longer take little things for granted,” she said. “Like we had a summer meal program here at the studio. Kids could come and get lunch and breakfast. I would see kids who would otherwise be too ashamed. It’s like the kids in the families are to the point now that if there’s something available they will take advantage of it.”
And her dance students are more concerned about each other. “They’re forming stronger friendships … I think it has strengthened bonds with people.”
WeTHRIVE! in NCH
Even with her dance studio and full-time job with NCH City Schools, Kimberley is dedicated to WeTHRIVE! She is a 2018 WeTHRIVE! Community Champion and serves on the school district’s WeTHRIVE! team. Their latest project will come to fruition later this month when Freestore Foodbank opens a food pantry site at NCH Schools. Kimberley says there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony on September 21.
Arabesque Dance Academy is an American Ballet Theatre (ABT) Project Plié studio, meaning it is committed to training dancers of color in true quality technique. Kimberley Stewart is an ABT® Certified Teacher.
The studio also participates in The Brown Girls Project, a Cincinnati organization focused on empowering and fostering girls’ self-esteem.