The social aspect of weekly classes is a very important one for Open Stage Arts.  Part of my impetus for starting the sessions was a realization, as I worked through my anxiety, that I was feeling isolated and needed more human interaction.  So now that we can’t meet in person, how do I keep form regressing back into my shell?

In order to spread the word about Open Stage Arts and broaden its horizons, I had consciously begun seeking out ways to meet people – networking.  It is something I was surprised to find I really enjoyed, once I found the right groups for me. The Oxfordshire Project, Independent Oxford and Meet and Mingle are the groups I have stuck with, and both have helped me develop, professionally and personally: a number of the people I have met I consider to be friends rather than associates.

With the onward march of the pandemic calling time on monthly networking meetings and weekly Open Stage Arts and FitSteps classes, I might have expected to fall back into a state of ‘isolation’, but the opposite is true, with many of my monthly meetups now becoming weekly.

Here’s a roundup of what I get up to, some of which you might like to get involved with yourself.

Monday mornings are a highlight (sounds odd to say that) thanks to Amy Johnson’s Zoom coffee mornings.  I have never met the people that attend these meetups in ‘real’ life, we have met on this platform only, and I so enjoy chatting with them every week.

In the old world order a Monday evening would see me heading off to Brookes Sport toteach FitSteps.  To keep FitSteppers happy across all the sites I work at I now record my classes on a Sunday and send them out to those who want them.  So in the evenings I am free to join Bernie Dance and Fitness on Facebook for some Body Conditioning, Barre Fitness, and Mash it Up dance workouts.  Bernie uses Facebook Live, and I like to join her in real time.  She can see who has joined and people can comment in the Chat.  I always answer Bernie when she asks how we are doing.  Of course I know she can’t hear me, but it feels like I am there with her.

Tuesday nights I am usually at street dance classes with Messy Jam.  I am a member of the parent crew Old Skool Flavah.  We take part in a competition once a year and you may have seen us perform at Dancin’ Oxford events including at Cowley Road Carnival – we’ve even performed at the Excel before it was a hospital.  Now Ellisha teaches us via Zoom, and I really like that she has timetabled a ‘chat’ for us too – once we’ve done a bit of dancing we can all catch up, which is so important.

It being the school hols however, this week I had Tuesday night off, so my daughter and I joined another online class that I would not have known about before isolation.  An old Open Stage Arts friend Ann has discovered West End Workout (yes, that is more dancing) so Cydney and I danced to a track from In The heights in our garage.  Our instructor, Steph Parker, usually holds live classes in the London SW area, but now that she is online we can join in from rural Oxfordshire.

This week on Wednesday I hosted a Zoom chat for my FitSteppers.  Without a physical class we all miss out on before-and-after-class chit chat, and in this case it was also an opportunity for those that do classes in different venues to meet up.  So double whammy.

On Thursday mornings I now look forward to my Independent Oxford meetup.  What is especially nice about virtual gatherings is that you can meet everyone at the same time.  When you are at a physical meeting you might not actually get to talk to everyone in the room, but here you can see all participants and hear what anyone has to say.

This week Deborah Humphrey (featured in another of my blogs) talked to us about self-care and led us in a few practical writing exercises to help us in whatever way we might need in the current climate. If you think you could benefit from some time with Deborah she is offering free 30-minute coaching sessions so do get in touch.

And then there’s Friday nights.  For my husband and I this usually means a walk to the village pub.  Last week we got the village pub to come to us, with a Forest Hill pub quiz.  The disco lights came on, and we dressed to impress – no need to let standards drop just because we’re not going out.  We were joined by friends who no longer live in the village – from as far afield as Devon, Maidenhead and Bicester – friends we’ve known for years and some that have not long moved to the village, so some of the participants were meeting others for the first time.  There were traditional quiz questions, some tech wizardry and sending people running around their homes to find objects beginning with the letter on a Scrabble tile pulled out of a sack: that one got the reluctant teenagers more enthused!

And finally to this Friday, when the Baseball Girls got together.  We’ve none of us ever played baseball (I don’t think!), it’s a name that stuck from our uni days of going out drinking together wearing baseball caps.  We usually meet roughly twice a year, sometimes all together, sometimes in smaller groups (Take That concerts and Secret Cinemas).  I think that being forced to NOT get together has made us more inclined to make the effort to meet up in the ether.

This year we were meant to celebrate Sophie’s nuptials, but instead we were able to spend quality time together in an environment where we can hear each other speak and don’t spend a bomb on booze (yes, we are of an age).

So, in conclusion, the world of video conferencing, I think, has made everyone a bit more ‘real’ and the process of meeting up more personal.  I don’t mind showing my new friends the human-size Wile E Coyote toy that sits on the sofa in my office, and it is lovely to see children or partners walk by in the background, or the Zoom participant moving to the kitchen to put the kettle on.  When the dance teacher is showing us stretches on the floor I can relate when her spaniels come to sit with her, and when her partner needs to get by when she is mid-dance he joins in and gives us a wave.

I know that for some people remote meeting is not enough, and they suffer more than I do with a lack of ‘actual’ contact, but for now I am grateful for the contact I can get, and feel that the urgency of the situation has made us inclined to make more of an effort to get connected, which suits me well.