After the coronavirus hit the Bay Area, the halt of the local economy was swift and unprecedented. Over the past eight months, Midpeninsula businesses have had no idea how long or how extreme the impacts of COVID-19 might be. They’ve faced an unpredictable cycle of forced closures and partial reopenings — that at times have pivoted back and forth and back again within days amid changing health mandates, which have indefinitely extended shelter-in-place orders from weeks into months.
To salute their efforts, we are sharing the stories of how some businesses have responded to the coronavirus and taking a look at how our 2019 Best Of winners are doing a year later.
After the coronavirus forced a statewide shutdown in March, Laura Santora couldn’t imagine pivoting barre classes to the virtual world — at least not the ones at her Palo Alto studio at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto, which are physically demanding and often require hands-on help from instructors.
Barre is a strenuous type of exercise that weaves in ballet choreography. The movements can be physically demanding, so instructors often move around the studio to help adjust their clients’ forms, verbally or hands-on. And like ballet, the training employs the use of a handrail, she explained.
“My first reaction was, ‘No way. How are we going to do that?'” Santora said.
But like many businesses, The Bar Method had to act fast. Within a week of closing the studio’s physical locations in Palo Alto and San Mateo, Santora and co-owner Noreen Dante began experimenting with how to move their classes online with the studio’s 18 instructors trying out various types of live video platforms: Zoom, Facebook Live and even Instagram Live.
Santora said they didn’t have much success at first: Instructors tried performing the movements with the students following along, but it’s extremely exhausting for barre instructors to perform movements and provide directions at the same time. The option of providing hands-on feedback was also gone. And with all the movements, some requiring the body to go very low, the instructors often found themselves out of the camera’s frame.
“We thought, ‘This is very clunky,'” Santora said. “And it takes away from the experience.”
That’s when they created the studio’s Spotlight Model, which uses a model to perform the exercises while teachers give instruction.
“It’s not a perfect solution,” Santora said. The models still have to adjust their laptop camera as they perform exercises like pushups or planks; there’s the inevitable connection issues over Zoom.
And while there’s still no fixed handrail used in the virtual classes, the studio has adjusted its routines so members can use flat surfaces such as a table or the back of a couch for some routines, Santora said.
Other props, like dumbbells, are also part of the class. But if you don’t have weights, she said, you can use wine bottles, cans of tomatoes or water bottles as a substitute.
“Beyond exercise, beyond toned muscles, we really are just a strong-knit community of people,” Santora said. “And people miss that. They miss being with each other.”
Live Zoom classes provide members the opportunity to log in 15 minutes before the class to reconnect with friends they haven’t seen in-person.
Despite the early obstacles, Santora said she doesn’t see this new virtual option going away anytime soon. Instead, she expects that The Bar Method will invest more into their production and create their own platform to host classes in the near future.
“I really think that fitness has changed,” she said. “It’s changed the landscape and we can’t go on thinking that we can only be in the studio. I think people will always want to have this choice.
View the rest of this year’s Best Of listings here.