East Coast Dance returns to in-person performances

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Dancers from the East Coast Dance Company performed six recitals at a homemade stage at Pat’s 30 Acres in Wall this week. (MARK R. SULLIVAN/THE COAST STAR)

WALL TOWNSHIP — The East Coast Dance Company in Wall hosted its first live recital before a crowd this week in over a year, once again bringing the joys of dance to the stage after a very difficult year for the dance studio.

Owner and director Amanda Calpini struggled over the past year, losing over a third of her clients during the pandemic.

“We had a lot of families that were unable to pay financially for dance anymore, and we had other families whose kids just weren’t interested in online dance. We lost over 120 kids in a month, which was devastating,” Ms. Calpini said. 

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“We’ve had so many restrictions in place from the social distancing, the  masking –  I had my kids dance all year long in masks, which is a lot,” she said. Students were able to take off their masks once their heart rates were up, per health department guidelines she said, “but it’s been a true challenge with all of that.”

Her enrollment before the pandemic had been around 300, she said, with students as young as 6 to as old as 75.

The recital had originally been planned to take place at the Strand Theatre in Lakewood; however due to ongoing COVID restrictions the show was canceled. 

Ms. Calpini decided that her dancers deserved something more than their virtual recital, which was less than ideal and not as fun as a full performance.

“Last year we did a complete virtual recital. And the kids put on their costumes and danced in their living rooms and we just recorded it and put it in a dropbox. So it was very anticlimactic last year,” she said.

She decided that the show must go on, even if it’s outdoors, and self-produced. For three nights this week, dancers performed on a 40-foot stage she built herself at Pat’s 30 Acres on Hurley Pond Road. There were six shows in total, with about 150 to 200 people at each performance. 

“We had to light the stage. We have a 60-foot dressing tent set up,” she said. “Theaters are conducive to what we do, so this was way above what I’ve ever done before, and it’s also about three times more expensive.”

Ms. Calpini thanked her staff for being able to work through the past year to put on this show for the kids. She said the recital was especially for her seniors in high school to perform before graduating.

“I’m really proud of my staff and I’m proud of everything that we have been doing because it’s about the kids,” she said. 

“I think it’s important for the community that these kids are able to get on stage. They worked really hard this year and there’s been so many letdowns. I couldn’t let my graduating seniors this year be let down, either. That was something last year that was really devastating for them,” she said.

Ms. Calpini said that the studio has been able to bounce back a bit in recent weeks with enrollment increasing as the COVID-19 safety regulations are slowly eased back to normalcy; however, has still not fully recovered the full 120 dancers she lost.

“I am seeing a slight increase in business which is really great, and I hope things keep trending that way,” she said, adding that her summer camp enrollment is up.

The studio is closed for the next three weeks, and Ms. Calpini said she will be anxiously awaiting any updates from Gov. Phil Murphy regarding indoor masks.

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