The Hybrid-Class Conundrum: How to Teach Virtual and In-Person Students Simultaneously
October 21, 2020

Just as teachers were getting comfortable with teaching virtual classes, many studios are adding an extra challenge into the mix: in-person students learning alongside virtual students. Such hybrid classes are meant to keep class sizes down and to give students options to take class however they’re comfortable.

But dividing your attention between virtual students and masked and socially distant in-person students—and giving them each a class that meets their needs—is no easy feat.

Dance Teacher asked four teachers what they’ve learned so far.

Audio and Video Setup Are Crucial

Making sure your virtual students can see and hear everything—in a way that doesn’t interfere with learning in the studio—requires careful setup.

“Since we all wear masks, it’s sometimes hard for Zoom people to hear,” says Seattle-based dance teacher Kirsten Cooper. To avoid having to always get up close to the computer microphone, Cooper suggests teachers invest in a wireless mic.

In his classes, Broadway Dance Center instructor and Common Ground co-founder Justin Boccitto wears Bluetooth headphones so he can hear when his Zoom tap dancers unmute themselves for a question. “I thought it might distract me, but I have two minds going now. Half of my mind is on the people in the room and then I’m constantly thinking about the people on Zoom,” says Boccitto.

Dance coach and former Rockette Rhonda Malkin tried a few different camera angles during class and asked her virtual clients what they preferred. Her current setup has gotten positive feedback. “I put the camera in the back of the room so that the dancers could see everyone, including myself,” she says. “They would see the back version of me and then the mirror version of me.”

Some teachers have had success with using two cameras at two different angles. Or, to get a shot of the whole room, teachers can use a wide-angle camera, like a GoPro.

No matter what setup you choose, it’s probably going to require you to get to the studio earlier than normal to get comfortable and prepared, says Cooper.

A group of women in character shoes and masks reach upwards at an angle in a studio, with a camera setup behind them

Rhonda Malkin’s hybrid class

Courtesy Malkin

Include Zoom Students in Conversations

With some students in the studio and some on Zoom, it’s especially important to make sure virtual students feel included, not like an afterthought. “I always have everyone in the room say ‘Hi’ to everyone on Zoom when we start and when we finish, just so it feels inclusive,” says Cooper.

When Boccitto has his in-person students form a tap freestyle circle, he pulls the camera into the circle to incorporate the virtual students. “I’m trying to make the experience for the people on Zoom as authentic towards being there as possible,” he says.

A group of students stretch, while Cooper sits on the floor looking at a Zoom screen full of students with her computer propped up on a chair

Kirsten Cooper teaches a hybrid class

Courtesy Cooper

Divide and Conquer

At New York Theatre Ballet, a second instructor watches over the virtual dancers in a separate room and gives them corrections, says founder Diana Byer. With this system, the in-studio instructor can focus on the dancers in the room while dancers on Zoom still receive individual corrections.

Similarly, Boccitto has an assistant focus on the in-person students while he attends to the virtual ones. “I think that personal attention goes a long way for the people who are on Zoom,” he says.

Have Modifications in Mind

While some students have limited space at home, others have a whole studio to dance in, so offering multiple versions of combinations is key. For across-the-floor combinations, Cooper either gives virtual students a stationary variation of the in-person step, or asks them to break the phrase into multiple parts. “I say to them, ‘Just do one eight-count in your space and then go back and do the second eight-count,'” she says.

At New York Theatre Ballet, instructors give the same combination to both groups of students but give a different traveling pattern to those on Zoom.

Byer, in the studio, watching a Zoom screen of students at barre

Diana Byer

Courtesy Byer

Use Asynchronous Videos for Individual Feedback

Malkin has virtual students send her videos of themselves doing combinations from her classes. “What I say to virtual students is, ‘Learn the material that I teach that day, and then video yourself doing it so that I can give you feedback personally,'” she says. This way she can focus on giving feedback to her in-person students during the class rather than constantly scanning the Zoom screen, resulting in more individual attention for everyone.

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