We are continuing our webinar series featuring our customer finalists from our Best-of-Breeds Awards 2020, a program aimed at putting the spotlight on customers who are using video conferencing in innovative ways.
This week I had the opportunity to host Andrew Nemr, creator of the program “Tap Into Freedom”. Hailed as “a masterly tapper” by the New York Times, Andrew is a shining star of the tap-dancing community – an international performer, choreographer, educator and speaker. Throughout his career, Andrew has partnered with legendary Jazz artists such as Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Hank Jones, James Carter, and John Faddis, Harry Connick Jr., the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, and Les Paul. He’s also the founder of the tap dance company Cats Paying Dues and has been involved in multiple projects receiving many awards and recognitions over the course of his career.
About five years ago, Andrew realized there was a need to better connect tap dance students with experts and experienced dancers in the industry. Typically, young students would have to meet experienced dancers and coaches at festivals and workshops that are conducted in-person in different locations around the world. This would mean limited access to teachers for each student, and usually a significant time and cost investment as students would have to travel great distances to meet the teachers. Andrew wanted to change that and make tap dancing coaching more accessible. This is how ‘Tap Into Freedom’ was born.
Tap Into Freedom is a program meant to help pass the oral tradition of tap dancing to any student anywhere, regardless of location. Students can get different types of coaching depending on their needs. Classes are conducted fully online over video conferencing using BlueJeans Meetings.
Andrew shared that his reason for picking BlueJeans was the amazing audio quality and simplicity of the service. Andrew is well-informed in the technology space and was familiar with BlueJeans from being a resident TED speaker. For him, it was utmost important that his students, who may not be very tech savvy, are able to easily use any preferred device for video conferencing and join their scheduled session without any hassle. BlueJeans Meetings fit that bill for him perfectly.
The sessions are set up through a calendar invite and are typically recorded so that each student has access to all the recordings as a portfolio of their classes to refer to anytime. Andrew also uses the chat feature to pass on notes as needed during class sessions.
When asked if he had any advice for those who are trying to move their traditionally in-person practices and services online for work such as telehealth, remote counselling, mentoring, coaching and consulting, Andrew shared the following based on successfully conducting a remote learning program for years: “Over-communicate with each participant to compensate for the lack of physical presence,” he suggested. “Let them know exactly what to expect. The more you are able to prepare your participant and elaborate on the new context of working online, the better the sessions will be. This is especially important for clients who are new, and with those you don’t have prior relationships with.”
The second important aspect to consider is people. “Think about your people. Ask yourself, what do they need? What can this situation provide for them that an in-person session cannot? What is the most important component of the in-person session that we need to maintain over video? It’s very easy to turn video conference sessions into a transaction. But I’ve realized doing this over years and years that people first and foremost want to connect and want to feel heard.”
We had a lot of great questions from both the EMEA and the NAM webinars. I’m summarizing a few of the most interesting ones here:
Q: How are you finding students? Are you using social media for outreach?
Andrew Nemr: Social media is a really important aspect of our program! In addition to my normal teaching schedule, we use Instagram and facebook to connect to our clients. Initially, we offer a 30-min free session to develop a practice plan. We try and develop a custom plan for them that then branches out to video lessons and online coaching.
Q: Your setup and online presence is great. Can you share more about your set up?
Andrew Nemr: My setup is actually super basic. I have natural light in front of me, so that’s good to have for video. I recently learned that if you have sight lines behind you to lead the audience’s eye, it helps them focus more on your face in the frame. So that’s why I’m set up at an angle here. I’m simply sitting on a chair and my laptop is slightly elevated on the desk (… the ‘hands thing’ is because my folks are from Lebanon!).
Q. Do you advise your students to have a specific set up?
Andrew Nemr: I try to make it as low barrier as possible. Some students use their laptops, some are on their phones. My only requirement is that they have some space to dance. We are really flexible, and often I will ask them to move their camera to focus on what I would like to see. The key is to not make the technology an issue. I like to simply get the information I need without causing too much disruption on the client side.
Q. What do you do during low bandwidth situations?
Andrew Nemr: BlueJeans has a way of prioritizing audio over video in low bandwidth scenarios. For a tap dance class, that’s great because I can still hear them. We may just wait for the bandwidth to improve and I may ask my students to repeat a certain movement. But so far, having the audio come through has been great and minimizes disruptions.
Q. How do you play music and share the audio?
Andrew Nemr: In our experience, it’s been really simple. Our client will have BlueJeans running on one device in front of them and have another device playing the music next to them. The music comes through with the tap sounds with no issues. There are no hacks or backend adjustments we have needed to do for this to work for us. (Note: This may vary depending on the types of sounds being shared. Please reach out to us at BlueJeans with questions for your use case!)
We ended the interview by Andrew sharing with the audience that for him and those who are in the creative space, it is now more important than ever to connect to the craft and practice it for the sake of the art itself. Regardless of what our interests or passions are, spending some time on it connects us to a sense of normalcy and lets us create joy even during difficult times. Here at BlueJeans, we are honored to be a part of Andrew’s effort and wish him the best for his program! If you are interested to learn more about Tap Into Freedom, visit tapdancefreedom.com for more information.