Behind The Red Curtain: How a Brno Creative Professional Has Survived During Lockdown

Across the world, the cultural sector has been deeply affected by the pandemic. As theatres closed the red curtains, music halls locked away their instruments, dance studios swept the floors and abandoned ballet shoes in changing rooms, many creatives in our society have been left with no choice but to look for income in different sectors. Brno Daily’s Melis Karabulut spoke to one creative entrepreneur, dancer Anežka Knotková, about dealing with the pandemic and protecting her business in difficult times. Photo Credit: Anežka Knotková.

Brno, March 15 (BD) – Anežka Knotková is a former finalist in the World Championship of Tap Dance. She has her own initiative, Dance AKA, located in Brno city center, through which she offers a variety of classes such as tap dance, musical dance, stretching, and yoga for children, adults, and the elderly in English and Czech. She also collaborates with the Brno Philharmonic, the Brno National Theatre and the Moravian-Silesian National Theater, and teaches at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno and the Janáček Conservatory in Ostrava. She is currently continuing her dance lessons online.

We have left behind almost a year of the COVID-19 pandemic. How did the lockdown and all the restrictions affect your work at the very beginning? 

In the beginning, just as for anyone else, it was energy-consuming to adapt to a different life. It took a long time to transfer all my classes into an online form, using Zoom, YouTube, or other platforms. Actually, the lockdown was a push factor to elevate my social media content. Still, I had the support of my regular clients, people wanted to keep on moving and I, as a teacher, felt the urge to motivate my students. We assumed that the lockdown would be temporary and the situation would get better in a few months. And it did. The summer came, things got better, we were dancing again together in our studio, hosting our annual summer camps for children as usual. It was very refreshing to see them again. 

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Photo Credit: Anežka Knotková.

What about the period after summer, how did things go after that? 

We thought that our autumn and winter courses could continue from September, so we opened the courses. Yet, we were hit by another wave of the pandemic and we had to switch to online lessons again. This fall and winter have been the most difficult because we could see that people were fed up with everything, going deeper into ‘the winter state of mind’. Usually, people are not into being active as the cold weather makes you want to snuggle under a blanket in front of the TV. Many of my clients started to lose motivation also due to the growing COVID-19 crisis in the Czech Republic, saying “I am very sorry, I don’t want to continue the online classes as I am already in front of the laptop all day, working. I will join your classes once we can dance in the studio again,”. Imagine, my group of students over 50 years old, they are not very good at using online platforms like Zoom, so anyhow it would not be possible to continue the classes with them. 

Did any of your previous groups continue your online classes? 

For sure the kids. Their parents wanted them to have a routine of physical activity. At the same time, they are also from time to time tired of online forms of learning. We used to set solid goals for kids, competitions, or performances so they would have something to look forward to. At the moment we cannot give them that, as their progress may not have an end result, like a dance show. 

We know from your social media that you are continuing to offer online classes for the Janáček Academy and Conservatory along with your individual classes. What are the challenges that you are facing as a dance instructor? Have you also had some positive experiences along the way? 

I am teaching dance, body posture, to do the correct things as you move. It is hard to deliver this through online video call platforms, as you or your students may face technical problems. Dance is a physical thing, you need to touch people, see them, they need to see you. As an instructor, you need to spread positive energy to your students at all times, but you do not get the same energy or feedback from your students in online learning. If I skip the video calls and record videos for my students, I need to spend at least 4 hours on one video, shooting, uploading, editing, and so on. I am a perfectionist, and I feel the need to maintain 100% the same quality in my classes, though this is challenging. One invaluable experience was our performance for the 10th year anniversary of Musical Ostrava, which was broadcast on TV. It was just beautiful… We as performers felt like we were in normal times again, rehearsing, singing, even though there was no audience or applause. We were being tested for COVID-19 every week during the rehearsals. That was when we were reassured of the deep love we have for our job. 

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Photo Credit: Anežka Knotková.

In what ways do you find it challenging? What have been the major changes? 

When we used to have contact classes, people would come to the studio and leave all their problems in the changing room for one hour and work on themselves, because I have always tried to give them more than just a dance class, rather a time to detox from the stress of daily life. Now they have to do this in their home space, which is not easy. In contact classes, people invested time, money, and energy for themselves, which kept them coming. Now we are deprived of being together, and to be honest, I do not see the point in pushing people to join online classes when their lives are much more challenging now. I am not one of those instructors who continuously push people to get fit or to pay for my classes. I am too humble to ask for money at such a time even though I am financially challenged as well.

How do you create the positive energy that you deliver to your students? Do you have some mechanisms or strategies to find good momentum in these hard days? 

I have always been working on my well-being, this is a habit for me. When I am tired or down, I draw, meditate, or I practice sewing, journaling, and gardening. Sometimes I spend time in the studio, I create new choreographies, create content for my social media, and this is actually fun. The positive feedback I receive on my social media also keeps me going. I always try to find new ways to keep myself and my students excited for each class, a new light. These days my young learners enjoy TikTok choreos, and I learn some for them! 

Can you tell us something about how you have managed financially through the lockdown period? What about your fellow colleagues, dancers, singers and actors in Brno? Do you have some insight into how they are handling it? 

We are creative people, so I guess all of us somehow managed to find a different direction in the creative sector. Some of my colleagues are designing eco-friendly clothes, masks, bags. On the other hand, one of my friends started to work at the COVID-19 testing stations, one works as a gravedigger now! Some surely had difficult times, especially due to the fact that we have not been very successful in receiving government support for the cultural sector [“Covid Kultura”]. What I have received so far, (CZK 44,000 from the first two rounds) has been spent on the rent for my dance studio, not much was left for my own expenses. Payments were always late and we were in debt. Recently I applied for the rent support for the cultural sector, which has been processed due to some complications with the paperwork. I will submit another application, and I hope to get it soon. Yet I kept my Dance AKA initiative going at all times, regardless of how COVID-19 escalated. My business lost more than CZK 80,000. Still, I am a businesswoman and I focus on finding solutions rather than complaining.

Photo Credit: Anežka Knotková.

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