NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Alicia Repun's phone barks an insistent reminder to her: “It is 10 o’clock!" Repun quickly gazes into the face of the phone and starts scanning for the names of her students.
“Are you there? Hi, hi, everybody!” she chirps.
In just a minute or two, several more youngsters join, here with her by the miracle of technology to create a seven-color rainbow and pot of gold on paper for St. Patrick’s Day.
There is no pot of gold for Repun and her husband, Pablo, Naples’ most visible tango teacher. The two found their income devastated last week with the arrival of COVID-19 restrictions. The Fleischmann Park center where Alicia teaches closed while the novel coronavirus is a threat. Pablo had to cancel his Saturday night social, which he said generally attracts at least 50 dancers, as well as his group lessons.
Their income went from one that allows them to live in their modest North Naples home to nothing.
"We had a show we were doing for an anniversary on Sunday. It was cancelled," lamented her husband. "But we have to pay the bills."
“It's like somebody pushed me off a mountain,” declared Alicia Repun of her last week. Alicia not only taught at Fleischmann Park; she had scheduled group lessons, birthday party painting sessions and even adult group sessions.
"I lost everything — everything, everything. It went from day to night."
So the two of them quickly became their own production company, using a stand for Alicia's iPhone and with Pablo handling setup and ambiance. They will switch roles Thursday, March 19, for Pablo's first internet tango lesson.
ONLINE CLASSES WORK WITH THE POWER OF TWO
"I'm a little stressed and excited at the same time," said Alicia, preparing what would be only her second online class Tuesday morning.
"We need some music — music!" Alicia Repun wishes aloud in front of her virtual classroom, and suddenly The Black-Eyed Peas' "Tonight's Gonna Be a Good Night — I Gotta Feeling" wafts in from the living room. Pablo Repun peers in hopefully.
Not everything goes so smoothly. The free Zoom application has eluded Alicia, so she can't see all her students' art as they draw for this class. "Can you send me pictures of your drawings? I want to see what you did," she coaxes, leaning toward the iPhone.
In the guest bedroom that has become her internet studio, a gilded print by Gustav Klimmt must now share space with owls and leprechauns in giddy primary colors. The only studio supervisor, Mañe, the older of the couple's two cats, watches from the bed.
The private Facebook account to which they have subscribed submitted their payments allows Alicia's students to make comments and ask questions. ("That pink — that's called Diva Pink," she responded to a student. "Wow, isn't it bright?")
Alicia is a teacher who thrives on interaction and wants their input. Pablo, however, says he would be hesitant to stop his classes.
"I'll explain it very slowly so people understand. But no chatting." He said, then relented: "Maybe some questions at the end?" he offered, and laughed.
"We start from the basics," he added. "I've been teaching almost 27 years. We have so many classes on the internet people can check." Then Pablo, who has been known to dance for crowds on Third Street South, concedes online rapport will be a learned skill.
"This is new territory to me."
"Some private students still want to take lessons, the technique classes," he said, which Pablo feels he can offer from the requisite 6 feet away.
MAKING THE JUMP TAKES LONGER FOR CENTERS
This also is new territory for area's institutions with art classes. Neither the Center for the Arts Bonita Springs nor Naples Art have organized online classes, although both said they are considering it. For an update on any decision, see their websites at artcenterbonita.org and naplesart.org.
The Marco Island Center for the Arts (marcoislandart.org) went another direction. It doesn't have plans for internet classes now, but wants to help the artists who exhibit there. It has created video tours of the Lauritsen and Rush Gallery, with its "Flash: 50 Years of Fashion" photography exhibit, and La Petite Galerie, where it displays the "Vanishing Florida" black-and-white works of Kevin Boldenow.
"Everything in our gallery is for sale, and the artists lose money when there's no foot traffic through the galleries," explained Patricia Mills, communications coordinator for the center.
In the meantime, after her 10 a.m. class, Alicia Repun was already beginning to feel comfortable enough with her online presence that she is planning weekly handsewn felt stuffed animal classes for children at 2 p.m. Tuesdays.
She will offer the 10 a.m. weekday classes at $15 ($99 a month) for all the children in a family; and her favorite, a "Mommy and Me" drawing class ($25), will be online at 5:30 p.m. Fridays. Alicia is even scheduling a "Chicas Pintonas" painting class for Spanish speakers ($25, $88 a month). Fifteen minutes into the class, she is bantering easily, even without a verbal response.
"Everything is so new to me. I'm used to doing it in person," she tells her Facebook classroom.
“But we're doing it, right?”