In the second of our looks at returning to class, David Mead talks to Pineapple founder Debbie Moore.
You could excuse Pineapple founder Debbie Moore for feeling a little glum. As we spoke just before the government gave a date from which dance studios may reopen, Pineapple’s Covent Garden studios had been closed for almost four months. Although things are now picking up again, the clothing side of the business, without which she tells me those studios would struggle to survive, had also taken a significant downturn. Even so, her passion for dance and fashion, and her positive can-do outlook remain undimmed.
While a return to classes is now on the horizon, Debbie is hugely enthusiastic about the studios’ new online class platform developed in response to the lockdown: Pineapple Live.
It wasn’t the easiest thing to get off the ground (there were especially issues around the necessary music licence) but it has proved amazingly popular with dancers and teachers alike, she says. To date, around 1,300 people from all over the world have registered and there’s now a Pineapple Live app, meaning that people can book classes easily on their phone. For a booking engine, Pineapple turned to the familiar MindBody. “It’s very exciting to look at the registrations and where people are from.”
“The use of technology in dance teaching has moved on years in the past three months,” she says, and teachers have been keen to sign up. Even those who claim to be technophobes have been eager to give it a go, including tap teacher Derek Hartley, who has taught at Pineapple since it opened. Tap has actually proved surprisingly popular, Debbie says. “You would be amazed at the number of people who seem to have tap boards at home.”
While recognising that everyone wants live classes, not everyone can get to them. Pineapple Live has opened up opportunities for anyone, anywhere, to take class with Pineapple’s teachers. Debbie estimates that, in a normal July and August as many as 80% of those who come to take class are visitors from overseas or other parts of the UK. Sometimes, they come for a fortnight, take class all day, then go to shows in the evening. Pineapple Live gives them the chance to try out teachers they might otherwise not be able to, and whose class they can then drop in on when they return.”
Pineapple Live has encouraged people closer to home too. Debbie tells of a lady who contacted her and who works at Google, just five minutes’ walk from Pineapple’s Langley Street home. “She had always wanted to come and try classes but had found it intimidating. Being able to take part online has removed that barrier. Now she can’t wait to be able to come along in person.
“The feedback has been fabulous. That makes me want to continue to do it.” Seeing it as a platform for the future, Debbie has asked teachers to keep at least one livestream class going after live classes resume, with a studio specially set up for it.
“The Pineapple Live platform also gives opportunities for a new generation of teachers,” says Debbie. “There are talented teachers out there who haven’t found a teaching venue. Online can provide that.”
Turning to live classes restarting at Pineapple, Debbie says that while the social distancing guidance was two metres, it was simply not viable to reopen. At one metre plus it is however, and in fact “one metre is about what I would hope for in a normal class.”
She said that they are presently measuring and working out individual studio capacities. As with Pineapple Live, dancers will have to book online using MindBody. It’s actually a super system, she says. It not only shows users the capacity for a class and how many places have been taken, but for the studio provides a wealth of information, including the all-important contact details that are likely to be required as a condition of opening.
The entrance and small reception are not the problems you might think. Debbie explains that there is a second door onto Langley Street (to the left of the usual entrance) that is not normally used but that can be pressed into service.
“All the practical things are doable,” she says. Classes will be staggered and there will be gaps between classes in the same studio to allow for sanitizing and to make sure groups do not meet. The narrow main staircase is difficult, she concedes, but says that they are looking at using the outside fire escape as part of a one-way system to stop dancers arriving from meeting those leaving.
It will not come as a surprise to discover that changing rooms will be closed. Debbie did however recall that they were also not available when the studios first opened as they were not quite finished. “There was a cement mixer in reception” she remembers, before telling of how some dancers used to ‘borrow’ the toilets in a local pub. “It worked then and it can work now”, she says.
Whenever the return comes, one thing Pineapple users new and old can look forward to is the annual summer open day of free classes, which this year will be a virtual open day online.
Despite the situation we presently find ourselves in, Debbie talks enthusiastically about future. It is going to look and feel a little different for a while, but the big return to live class is not too far away. “People are desperate for a class” she acknowledges. “They want to get back.”
For Pineapple Live classes, click here.