Former Townsville local Kym Degenhart enjoyed a 10 year, international professional dance career, performing most notably as a Cancan dancer at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, before settling in Canberra. As the owner of Bom Funk Dance Studio, she has won multiple business awards, is the Vice President of Ausdance ACT, and author of Frou Frou to Fruition.
Her business has been dealt a cruel blow during Covid restrictions, forced to adhere to strict NSW directives and excluded from the ACT ‘bubble’, despite being located just 1km from Canberra.
Bom Funk Dance Studio is located in Jerrabomberra, NSW, one of Canberra’s surrounding suburbs. It is so close, in fact, that the same postcode covers parts of ACT and NSW, and crossing the border is such a common, daily occurrence for so many people, that most barely even notice the welcome signs.
“Despite the fact that my business has always had to follow NSW government legislation, the majority of ACT rulings are more impactful on our everyday lives as Canberra is our closest city,” says Kym.
“Once borders started to re-open to other states, rather than including us in the Canberra regional bubble, all of a sudden we were excluded, despite the fact we’ve had zero cases for the same length as Canberra.
“We’ve lost 200 students since term 1 this year, while dance studios literally 3km away from us in the ACT are thriving.”
Kym estimates they have spent thousands of dollars and many hours preparing and keeping our business COVID Safe.
“Thankfully prices have dropped now that the supply chain is under less demand again, but there was a time that we were paying $250 per 5L bottle of hand sanitiser and when you have hundreds of children passing through your business each week, you can imagine how much we’ve gone through,” she says.
“Jumping through all the COVID hoops has been relentless and draining.
“Listening to press statements and then reading through regulation change after change, trying to decipher the meaning in regards to our industry. Writing up COVID Safe plans and policies only having to amend them the next day because something else has changed. Developing & conducting staff training days so that everyone on the team understands the new processes. Then there’s the necessary communication between stakeholders and families to let them know of the changes and help them feel reassured. All of that while also setting up a new website so that your dancers can access classes remotely and teach via zoom until we could re-open.”
Only four of her 16 staff members qualified for Job keeper, but Kym praises her team for their hard work to keep classes running and students engaged during lockdown.
“They were all happy to do whatever was necessary to get the children dancing again, whether than meant extra training or cleaning between classes,” she says.
“I think the biggest challenge for staff was having to learn how to use new technology so quickly – some took to it really well while others needed more support and training. Uploading video content took so long some days as everyone was online.
Our students have shown incredible resilience throughout all of this and I think it has made them appreciate what we do even more and appreciate every performance opportunity that they get.
Kym says they have pivoted and adapted so the business is functioning to its highest capacity under the current conditions.
“Other than room capacity caps and event operation changes, we are almost back to ‘business as usual’ luckily. Our class numbers are still capped at 20 in NSW so this does mean that we cannot have larger group classes running or combined classes for performances and our smallest studio only has a capacity for 13 students.
“Our hallway remains closed as it is too narrow to have all our dancers wait inside, so currently our classes all exit from the classrooms directly outside – this was a challenge during winter and for students who had breaks between classes.
“Had our business stayed closed for the length of time Melbourne was in lock down, I think we would have had to seriously consider closing our doors permanently – ultimately it would have depended on what rental consideration was given as we could not have maintained paying our rent without regular face-to-face classes running. When we moved to online classes, at the peak we lost 92% income and had only 25% of our families participate. I’m very grateful we were only closed for 3 months and have since been able to slowly grow again. Term 3 this year felt like my first year in business all over again! Rebuild and refine…
In addition to the frustration she experienced due to her geographical location, Kym says that one of the hardest things as a business owner during COVID has been watching governments make rulings that don’t make sense for particular areas or industries.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, Dance was completely left out of government announcements and decisions,” she says.
“There was so much confusion over which industry we were grouped with – are we community sport, are we arts and cultural activities, are we gyms? In each state dance was being lumped with something different and none of it made sense for the way our industry operated.
“I am currently serving my 4th year as Vice President of Ausdance ACT and was able to have input into an Open letter written by Ausdance National to the National cabinet in regards to Dance education & training.
“A positive from all of this has been the development of a closer dance community, coming together for a greater good. I’ve been able to connect with so many more dance teachers and studio owners in supportive networks that have been established or strengthened due to this pandemic.”
It’s clear that this former Townsville Grammar School and James Cook University graduate is a formidable businesswoman, who will continue to rise above the challenges of 2020 thanks to her optimism and work ethic.
“There have been positives for my business that have come from this pandemic too – while it’s been challenging, it’s not all doom and gloom,” she says.
“It’s given me an opportunity to take a step back, particularly during lockdown, and reassess the way we do everything and work towards stream lining things for more efficient operations. Things that weren’t working, I was able to just stop doing – and blame COVID!
“Usually once the year starts, I don’t get to come up for breath until the Christmas holidays and by then it’s almost too late to implement new things or make changes for the following year, which means I then end up working over the Christmas holidays to get it done. I’ve been able to select a few projects moving forward that I really want to focus on and work towards implementing. That’s been exciting. I have also been able to complete some great professional development this year including my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.
“COVID-19 also made me realise how essential our ‘non-essential’ service is to so many children and families.”
By Julie Johnston