May 2020

Building a virtual world: Stay calm and carry on, online

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

As the COVID-19 crisis has upended our lives throughout the month of April, we continue to work together to find some sense of normalcy, while doing our best to flatten the curve. One of the great challenges beyond the extra precaution required to avoid the deadly virus is how to stay physically, mentally, and emotionally well. With our gyms closed, entertainment venues shut down, sports canceled, and social activities restricted, we have been forced to seek alternative ways to feel good, have fun, and connect. As our lives came to an abrupt stop, many of us have found ourselves building a virtual world to fill in the blanks. Even the most tech-challenged among us are embracing Zoom fitness classes, Skype book clubs, Facetime visits, livestream concerts, watch parties, virtual church services, and more.

Keeping fit online
Consistent exercise is one of the best ways to care for your body under any circumstances, but it is particularly important during this time of added tension. Research suggests that when we exercise, our brains release chemicals that help us better manage stress and anxiety, improving both our physical well-being and mental outlook.

While at-home exercise videos are nothing new, what is new is the way area fitness facilities have rallied to move their programs online. Thanks to Facebook Live and videoconferencing apps like Zoom, gym goers have been able to see their favorite local instructors and workout with friends from the safety of home.

According to Myranda McAfee, general manager at LAVA 24 Fitness, the gym allowed members to check out equipment for use at home. In addition, they have been offering a variety of virtual classes via Zoom as well as pre-written workouts for members. Instructors are adapting their routines to include workouts that can be performed without special equipment, and the Zoom platform allows for full interaction so that instructors can help with form or modifications. Participants have the option to turn off their cameras if they don’t want to be seen, but McAfee said most members are enjoying the opportunity to connect. “It has been amazing. Some members who haven’t been our highest attending members are becoming more regular because it’s something for them to do,” she said.

When the gym reopens, virtual classes will continue for those who remain uncomfortable with the gym environment, McAfee said, and a new cleaning plan is in place to ensure the highest level of safety possible for members who choose to return to the gym.

Pure Barre Hilton Head Island and Pure Barre Bluffton have been teaming up to host two Facebook Live workouts each morning. In addition to their clientele, they invited non-members to join in as a gesture of good will and as a way to help others stay active from home. “The feedback has been really positive, and we’ve had incredible participation,” Pure Barre Hilton Head Island owner Jenna Irvin said. “It’s been a saving grace for me because it’s helping me still feel connected during this time when there is not a whole lot of connection happening. I just wish I knew when it was going to be over.”

Peak Performance Fitness Center has continued offering small group classes via Zoom as well as one-on-one personal training using whatever platform works for the client (Zoom, Facetime, Skype, etc.). Participants whose schedules don’t fit the class times also have the option of getting a recorded version of group classes.

Owner Christina Lindstedt admits that the change of format has presented a unique challenge for her both professionally and personally (“a juggling job,” she said.) But she is confident that live classes and in-person training will be back on track soon. “The people who are doing the virtual classes seem to really like them. There’s a good turnout,” she said, pointing out that staying connected in this way will make it easier for clients to get back into their routines when the fitness center reopens.

Other health and fitness related businesses are doing the same: reinventing their services and/or delivering them online. Cycle Bar has rented out their bicycles to members for their use at home; Pure Salt Studios has been offering livestream meditation and movement classes; and The Art of Massage and Yoga Therapy has been offering a full schedule of “Om from Home” virtual classes.

These efforts have provided a way for health and fitness businesses to stay afloat and continue serving their clients, while even attracting a few newbies by giving them the opportunity to try out a new workout routine in a comfortable home environment.

As the situation continues to evolve, please contact the individual fitness providers for information on how to access their online offerings, and please do support them by buying punch cards and paying upfront for memberships or services you can use when normal operations resume.

Staying sane and entertained
While staying physically active is important, we mustn’t overlook the basic human need for leisure and entertainment. Minus the ability to gather for meals, concerts, festivals and the like, we still need shared experiences and diversions to take our minds off the fear and uncertainty of the day.

It’s no secret that music has great power to unite and to heal. Many of us have been missing the usual outdoor festivals and local music events that normally take place in spring. And much like our furloughed hospitality workers, area musicians are taking a big financial hit.

In an effort to provide relief for the entertainment-hungry public as well as his fellow musicians, John Cranford of Cranford Hollow and Swampfire Records, along with Matt Stock, general manager at Coligny Theatre and co-owner/editor of The Southender magazine, organized the Musicians Assistance Live Stream Concert Series, sharing local artists’ performances online from Coligny Theatre. (Visit the Coligny Theatre Facebook page to watch the replays.)

In a talk show style format with Stock playing host, the shows were presented free of charge on the faith that listeners would be moved to make donations. “Obviously, everybody doesn’t donate, but you figure if there’s 1,000 people a night watching and everybody can throw whoever’s playing a dollar … that was kind of our mentality for raising the funds,” Cranford explained. (They did 12 shows in a row and raised about $13,000.) “What we really enjoyed about it was that the money raised went directly to the artists.”

Unfortunately, the nightly shows were stopped in April per Governor McMasters’ order closing all theatres. Cranford has since been livestreaming performances with a variety of artists on his Facebook page, from the Tiki Hut, without a live audience, of course, but with the familiarity of the oceanfront venue and the beautiful blue-sky backdrop. The concerts were and are free to watch, but tips are greatly appreciated and can be given through Venmo or PayPal.

When Coligny Theatre can reopen, Cranford and Stock plan to continue offering online concerts. Ultimately, when social distancing is no longer necessary, they will resume hosting performances for live audiences as well.
“We want to keep Coligny Theatre in the public eye. It has tremendous potential as a center for the arts on Hilton Head and still for film appreciation as well,” Stock said. “We have the lighting and the sound equipment to put on a well-produced, entertaining show, and this has been a great dry run to work out the kinks.”

The interest and participation in the livestream concerts is “shining a light not only on what we are capable of, but also how much people really love music,” Stock continued. “I’m always impressed by the ways people here in the Lowcountry circle the wagon when times get tough. You can’t keep a good town down!”

If there is a silver lining in all of this, perhaps it is that we are learning to use technology in a new way—as a helpful resource and a platform for support. With less impetus to compare and compete, the global pandemic has begun to even the social media playing field and is affording us the opportunity to create a virtual world that encourages us to come together in a spirit of cooperation.

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