When COVID-19 forced schools, stores, restaurants, and small businesses to close nationwide this past spring, people turned to distance learning, distance socializing and Zoom became a household name.

Among those small businesses, dance studios were among those affected.

Like many dance studios locally and nationwide, Studio D’s spring dance lessons continued via online instruction.

The weekly classes became an opportunity for dancers to not only socialize, but to continue to develop skills and to add a degree of normalcy to children’s lives.

As the dance season came to an end, the question lingered, how could a dance studio safely showcase the technique and choreography that dancers worked on all year?

In June, under the artistic direction of Studio D’s owner, Rebecca Anderson Darling, the New Milford dance studio embarked on a creative project that would allow dancers to perform, to work together as a community, to wear their costumes, all while continuing to practice the social distancing guidelines set in place by Governor Ned Lamont.

The “Alice in Wonderland” themed dance performance turned into “Project Alice,” a video performance filmed mostly outdoors in well-known local venues, such as Harrybrooke Park and Lover’s Leap, as well as the Village Green, just outside Studio D’s front door.

Choreography and rehearsals began in earnest in early June by Zoom, and once Phase 2 of reopening occurred, studio rehearsals began in mid-June with dancers socially distanced, wearing masks.

“When we first started filming, the teachers and I had a vision, but I’m not sure that anyone else, families or dancers knew what to expect,” Darling stated.

As the weeks went by, through hard work, dedication, and a genuine love of dance, our project became something that we all stood behind, as a dance studio community,” she said. “We couldn’t have done this without the amazing teachers and crew, dancers, parents, and support of the venues that became our stage and backdrop.”

In what has become tradition for Studio D’s performances, “Project Alice” combined a variety of dance genres, including Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Hip hop, Tap, Contemporary, Choreo Acro, and Street Dance, infused with music ranging from classical to pop and rap, in order to bring this classic tale to life.

The cast included Emilia Tesoriero and Brianna Gray as the older and younger Alice, Alexa Esposito as the White Rabbit, Katie Lukens as the Mad Hatter, Sarah Rondini as the March Hare, Macie Rubini as the Dormouse, Giovanna Esposito and Lindsey Federowicz as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Avery Rubini and Anna MacDonnell as the Caterpillar, and Maria Pellegrino and Chase Tuz as the Queen of Hearts and the Knave of Hearts.

The Flamingo Queen, the White Queen, and the White Rose Conductor were danced by Abigail LaPoint, Anna Silva, and Katie Hawley, respectively.

Filming wrapped up last week with a cast photo at the bandstand on the Village Green.

Videographer Travis Gollino is editing and the finished project will be available to families by DVD later in the fall.

Mike Bensema and Jenny Lukens Photography were also behind the cameras as videographer and photographer.

Approximately 100 dance families participated in “Project Alice,” about 80 percent of Studio D’s season enrollment.

The few who did not participate either moved away from the area or chose to not be tied to a schedule during the summer months.

“In doing this project, we proved that dance feeds the spirit and heals our souls in amazing ways. I am so proud of each and every dancer, from our 3-year-olds in Creative Movement to our seven graduating seniors who are going forward with bright futures ahead of them,” Darling said. “A couple of these seniors will continue to dance in college, but for every one, dance has helped shape their character, and has given them discipline and grace to carry with them the rest of their lives.”

Studio D is accepting applications online for the 2020-21 dance season at www.dancestudiod.com.

The plan for Spring 2021 is for a traditional dance performance.