By Abby Weingarten
Erin Crobons—a dancer, choreographer and teacher throughout her collegiate career—was finishing her senior semester at New College when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The campus—and the local dance studio where she had been instructing for three years—shut down. She was soon out of work, out of college and thrown into the middle of economic chaos.
When Crobons graduated in May with no day job or career prospects, and her beloved young students suddenly had nowhere to dance, she snapped into entrepreneurial action. A longtime competitor and go-getter, Crobons boldly decided to create her own studio—a space called Energize. The physical location will open for business in Sarasota on September 7.
“I had always imagined opening my own dance studio, but I planned on it maybe being 20 years in the future after I had already started my career,” said Crobons, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in applied mathematics from New College. “I knew dance was my passion and something I wanted to do, and I always thought I’d find a way return to it somehow later in life.”
The pandemic, however, sped up this process. Crobons had been on staff at a Sarasota studio called Dance Artistry since 2017, which closed its doors in May, leaving a host of students without a performance space. These children—ages four to 18—meant the world to Crobons. And, as they lamented the loss of their school, she felt overwhelmingly compelled to help.
“An email went out to all the families, letting them know about the studio closing, and within the hour, I had five or six calls/texts from parents wanting to know what to do for their children. I told them ‘I don’t know. I don’t really have a plan. But we’ll figure it out,’” said Crobons, who had intended to continue working at Dance Artistry post-graduation before pursuing graduate school. “Within the next 24 hours of that email, I had created a business plan and decided to start Zoom classes over the summer. I started looking for a location in June and, by early August, I had signed the lease.”
Crobons handled all the financial details herself, and she had some help from her parents in dealing with contractors and insurance agents. She found a 1,200-square-foot space in good condition that was previously a fitness business; it only required a few upgrades to the floors and mirrors.
To open efficiently during the pandemic, Crobons will be following strict safety guidelines, such as limiting class sizes, wearing masks, keeping dancers appropriately spaced, and setting up sanitizing stations. Group and individual classes will be held in person and simultaneously streamed live on Zoom for students ages 18 months to 18 years. If an outbreak of COVID-19 occurs, the studio will transition to an entirely remote setup.
Crobons is currently the only instructor for the studio (ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary and lyrical dances are her specialties) but she hopes to recruit hip-hop and ballet teachers soon. Crobons, who has been dancing since she was six and competing since age 10, is the recipient of two choreography awards from the 2019 BravO! National Dance and Talent Competition. She will be training students for dance competitions that are slated to resume in the spring of 2021.
“I love the kids I teach and I love their parents. We all have close bonds. I didn’t want to lose them when the old studio shut down, and I knew they didn’t want to stop dancing,” Crobons said. “I wanted to give them a place to go. Usually, when I have an idea, I try to stick with it and run with it. I like to have very detailed plans, but because of COVID, I just took it as it came.”
And it was her experience at New College—along with her competitive dance background—that helped Crobons to think on her feet.
“I love New College for the very reason that I had the flexibility to study two completely different subjects: psychology and math. I used my math knowledge to understand the financial side of opening a business, and the psychology knowledge to better communicate with customers and dancers,” Crobons said. “I don’t think I would have gotten that foundation elsewhere.”
Her undergraduate thesis was entitled Can Females Succeed in Mathematics? Growth Mindset Intervention and Its Effects on Mathematics Ability and Performance, and Crobons is now applying what she learned from that research to her professional life.
“I encourage my dancers to have a growth mindset and to have good mental health. I want my studio to be different in the sense that I will focus a lot on mental and physical health, incorporating all those psychology principles I learned at New College,” Crobons said. “I want to show students how to transfer those skills to the real world, to have a competitive mindset and to apply it in a positive way.”
It is something Crobons has always practiced as a teacher. She often thinks about a time when one of her students forgot her solo steps during a dance competition and ran off the stage in tears. Crobons was waiting in the wings. She hugged her, told her it was OK, and that life is about making mistakes and getting back up again. Students need that kind of positive reinforcement today, Crobons said, more than ever.
“I just think kids need more positivity, more love and more encouragement right now,” Crobons said. “If I can be the one thing that makes them smile, that makes me happy.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.