Domenica Troina pirouettes on Friday during a combined Tap V and VI lesson at Ketchikan Theatre Ballet. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

For Ketchikan Theatre Ballet instructors and dancers, it's a relief to be back in the studio after several months of virtual lessons.

"It's really a huge part of a lot of kids' lives," KTB Director Elizabeth Schultz said during a Thursday interview. "Not just dancing per say, but the group of friends they've built through their time here. So for the older ones, I think it's been a huge relief."

That community changed drastically in March, when COVID-19 came to Ketchikan.

The studio — which is celebrating its 60th year of operation — briskly shut its doors as a safety measure in March.

KTB took to virtual classes until July, but it wasn't the same, Schultz said.

This was mainly due to the restrictions of not having a safe place to practice choreography.

The floors at the KTB studio are designed to "give a little" when dancers jump, Schultz explained.

But at home and hunkering down, many students tuned in to the virtual lessons from family rooms, garages or bedrooms.

And so, the virtual classes became a way for dancers to do some "maintenance" on the skills they already knew.

"We focused a lot on conditioning exercises (and) stretching," Schultz said. "We didn't do a lot of dancing per say, because the conditions weren't really safe."

In July, the studio began a gradual reopening that included two small summer sessions for older dancers. Usually, a summer dance camp is held with multiple new instructors coming to Ketchikan to pitch in from around the state.

This year, the sessions were solely for older dancers — an effort to keep strict social distancing, Schultz said.

For almost a month, KTB has been in the full, but still modified, swing of things.

The first week of September, all dancers were back in-person for class — with a slew of new protective measures.

Class sizes are now limited, Schultz explained. Drop-in classes will not be offered, and one parent may enter the building with a dancer — no friends or siblings are permitted inside, according to online KTB mitigation information.

When dancers arrive at the studio, they undergo a temperature check and are required to wear masks until they enter their studio.

Inside the building, each studio is equipped with six feet-by-six feet boxes on the floor — spaced six feet apart — which allow for about eight dancers to be socially distant in each class.

When inside their zones, dancers may remove their masks. Schultz said that the students are allowed to keep their masks off in the building due to the rigorous nature of the dances.

Instructors keep their masks on.

After each class, the instructors clean the studio by mopping, wiping down common surfaces and disinfect the space with cleaning solution.

"It's really minimal work in terms of cleaning," Schultz said, noting that with flu season approaching, it's work that should be done anyway.

Schultz said that the students have been receptive to the new opening process.

"The kids really seem to know how this all works now, and we've been able to make it work really easily, to keep people spaced apart," Schultz said.

KTB instructors also are grateful to be back in the studio.

"We're all so relieved to be back teaching," Schultz said. "It's our job but it's also a huge passion. When you pursue dance, it's kind of a lifelong love, and so to not have that outlet and not see your students who you're so close with ... everyone just felt so relieved to be back into the swing of things."

Schultz believes that it's not just KTB staff and students who are happy to be back.

"I think the parents are glad to have an activity that the kids love and have it be in a safe environment so they don't have to worry," she said.

 In a regular year, KTB produces multiple annual performances, occasionally bringing professional dancers and instructors from around the country to help in the creation of a show.

Such events include "An Evening of Dance," a Spring Gala, a winter performance and the annual production of "The Nutcracker."

While Schultz was not able to definitively say what the studio's expectations were, KTB is working on developing performance plans.

"So we'll play with that, and hopefully create something pretty fun," Schultz said.