By Jan Worth-Nelson
In 38 different rooms and almost as many laptops, yoga students Friday morning rolled out mats, stretched their arms up high, took deep breaths and bent and balanced and anchored themselves into triangle poses simultaneously as directed by their teacher, Katrina Smeets.
While the technology has required a bit of fine-tuning, class members who could see each other in a row of “tiles” across the top of the screen, smiled and for the most part are managing a three-time per week session–and say they want to continue.
The half-hour class meets at 10 a.m. MWF and is finishing its first week in the Zoom format. It has attracted more than 50 participants — not just from Flint but several other states and even overseas — eager to keep up their practice.
When the coronavirus hit and it became apparent cloistering in place was what had to be done, Valorie Horton, co-director of the Chosen Few Arts Council, realized things might have to change to keep up the council’s popular classes, several of which are offered at Berston Field House.
“I was trying to think about how we needed to start thinking outside the box,” Horton said, “so we can stay in touch with people who take our classes,” she said, “and then I saw a conference on Zoom, and I thought, we should be able to teach that! Which ones? We knew we could do the yoga class.”
She approached Katrina Smeets, a yoga teacher she knew from another class.
Smeets said she had heard about Zoom from another source who also hoped she would do a class that way, and she was willing to give it a try. She had already downloaded Zoom and a group of nine people did a test run Sunday afternoon.,
“We worked out the bugs, how far back to stand, how to use the mute, how to do the lighting,” and were ready to go the next day, Horton said.
Smeets and Horton then sent out emails announcing the class to everybody on their lists, people who had been taking yoga classes at Berston and others.
The word quickly spread.
Horton said the first class had 50 people–from Flint but also from England, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia and Florida.
Some are logging in as teams — some are husbands and wives or daughters and mothers— both females and males, Horton said.
The students can all see Smeets, who is in her own home in Swartz Creek, in the larger portion of the screen but also can see each other, though participants can opt out of showing themselves.
Using Zoom is free for the first 40 minutes, enough time to cover the half-hour class. The Chosen Few Arts Council pays Smeets, but the class is free for participants, an option that matters to Horton. “That way anybody can be part of it,” she said.
“You get kind of tired sitting in the house, and it gives people something to look forward to,” Horton said. “We’re getting our exercise–it’s a blessing.”
However, an option exists to pay donations to Smeets, who makes her living teaching yoga. People who would like to donate to Smeets directly can do so via PayPal.
“So we’re being a blessing to her and she is blessing other people, too,” Horton said. “You can see people’s smiles.”
Horton, an arts activist, advocate and potter, said she has been doing yoga for about seven years, twice a week with Smeets, and started the Chosen Few class about six years.
“It’s good for your health and getting you to move around,” she said. As the coronavirus crisis hit, she said she had not found the time to practice, and felt the difference.
“I could tell it had been three weeks since I felt so much better — when you do it, you’re body gets used to stretching, and then it calms your mind as well,” a much needed relief in the present circumstances, she said.
Both participating and watching as the first class went through its planks, triangle poses and downward dog, Horton observed, “People were smiling. Even though we were not there, we were together.”
Anyone interested in the class can call Horton at 810-610-6673 to be added to the Zoom event. The class can accommodate up to 100, she said.
The Chosen Few Arts Council, headquartered at 2901 E. Court St., started in 2006. It is an independent nonprofit organization devoted to teaching fine arts classes to youth and adults. Their offerings cover arts and crafts, basic drumming, beginning drawing, and music. Funding comes from a variety of sources including the Community Foundation of Greater Flint and the Greater Flint Arts Council. Omar Batson is executive director.
For the time being, except for the yoga class all other classes are closed. Berston is closed, and the Chosen Few recording studio is closed, though based on the success of the yoga class they may attempt to go online with add several others.
“We’re not worried about it, we’re doing all that we can do to keep alive,” Horton said.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.