San Diego Dance Studio Says County's Move Into Red Tier Is Not Enough to Stay Afloat

"We've just been holding on by everything possible to make it through and get back to reopen," said Shawn Torgerson, the owner of the San Diego-based dance studio, Dance Headquarters

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With San Diego County now in the red tier, gyms can reopen indoor service at 10% capacity. For one dance studio, getting back to business is critical -- but much more movement is needed if the studio is going to keep the lights on.

Dance Headquarters is a dance studio in San Diego's Kearny Mesa area. On Wednesday, it welcomed back its dancers for the first time in months.

It was a step forward, no doubt.

"It's a very big deal because we've just been holding on by everything possible to make it through and get back to reopen," owner Shawn Torgerson told NBC 7.

Torgerson said he was forced to temporarily close his studio in November 2020 when San Diego County hit the purple tier in California's COVID-19 safety plan.

With no business coming through the doors for months, Torgerson said the bills have been piling up.

He said he tried to pivot to other alternatives like holding dance classes outdoors or virtually, but he said the uneven parking lot layout made the outdoor option difficult. He also said the dance classes didn't translate well on virtual platforms.

So, transitioning into the red tier is critical for his business as a means to finally move forward.

"It means that we're going to get at least a little bit of influx of income," Torgerson explained. "I'll be able to pay some of the deferred rent and some of the deferred bills."

Torgerson said he's implemented new COVID-19 safety protocols for dancers making their way back to his studio's dance floor.

“We have seating spaced out; they have to stay with the same person they are with the entire night; they are masked the entire night,” Torgerson said.

Dance Headquarters even created a little jingle that will play over the sound system to remind dancers to sanitize throughout their dance session.

Although it's nice to see people back in the studio, Torgerson said operating at just 10% capacity won't be enough to keep his business afloat in the long-term. His facility covers a lot of ground and the space, alone, is costly to keep open.

"Real estate is expensive and, so, the studio is 7,700 square feet and to only be able to do 10% of your capacity is still very limiting," he said.

The small business owner said he predicts he won't be able to break even until San Diego County reaches the orange tier, which would allow businesses like his to operate indoors at 25% capacity.

Torgerson said the new few weeks will be critical and he will be forced to make a tough choice: contemplate shuttering his business or defying the public health rules. He said he's received a cease-and-desist order in the past from the county.

“It will be okay, do we open and risk another cease-and-desist and push into the orange on our own and start doing 25%? Or, do we just call it a day and give up?” Torgerson said.

Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Torgerson remains in a positive mindset and is determined to keep his business open for good.

He’s a military veteran who discovered dance during his time as a combat cameraman in the U.S. Navy and made the full transition to dance once he retired. He’s been teaching 22 dance styles since 1994. 

In the red tier, restaurants and movie theaters can operate at 25% indoors. Torgerson says more of a push needs to be made to allow gyms and businesses like his to operate at a larger capacity.

"We are the one industry that promotes health and fitness and well-being, and so to only be allowed 10% capacity to get people healthy to be able to fight this pandemic makes no sense to us," he added.

Torgerson told NBC 7 he has also started a GoFundMe to help offset some of the mounting bills he’s facing.

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