Susana Irigoyen teaching ballet to her young students

Susana Irigoyen teaches ballet to her younger students.

EL CENTRO — Due to COVID-19 closures and restrictions, several sectors of the community have been impacted, including performers like musicians, dancers, and singers. The Desert Review interviewed two different performers to see how they’ve been impacted.

Francisco Cabrera, director of Religious Education, discusses the changes COVID-19 makes to his singing routine. He sings and plays guitar for St Mary's Parish in El Centro.

Cabrera said he’s still fulfilling his musicianship roles, more so now than before the pandemic, singing now at the daily and weekend Masses instead of just on Sundays.

He also sings for St. Mary’s School Mass, which is right next to the church. He said the students are doing remote distance learning, with the exception of preschool. The setup includes using both Facebook Live and Zoom to broadcast the Mass and singing.

Cabrera said he’s more devoted now than before the pandemic. He said singing new songs at Mass was always difficult before the pandemic because the congregation might not know or enjoy them. He feels he can sing more of what he wants, such as older hymns and chants. 

“We’re taking advantage of this time,” said Cabrera. “We’re trying to reintroduce to the community a sense of authenticity of the music in the liturgy.” He said he wants to return to the tradition of singing psalms and reintroduce the propers of the Mass. He explained that the propers set the tone for the day and are short enough to be memorized. One person sings it, and the congregation repeats it back. 

The propers are sung throughout the week and change at the beginning of a new week, Cabrera said. “This makes it easier for me as a musician because I don’t have to pick an entrance song or a communion song. I always know what I’m going to sing,” he said. Cabrera said it allows people to reflect more deeply on readings. 

Cabrera said the Catholic Diocese of San Diego requires 12 feet of distance between a musician and everyone else. When he sings in the chapel with staff only, he is easily 12 feet apart from everyone. For outdoor Mass, he sings inside a building, equipped with a microphone so people can hear him — which is a personal preference. He does not wear a mask while singing. 

Susana Irigoyen, co-owner and director of Dancin’ Feet in El Centro, teaches several dance classes at the studio.

There were 250 students enrolled when she bought the studio in August 2019. When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, Irigoyen began teaching classes on Zoom. She said she lost about 150 students. The studio now does both Zoom and in-person classes.

“For the older girls, I let them be part of the choreography and having them create their own dances,” Irigoyen said. She said this helped in the learning process. For the younger girls, she turns everything into a game or keeps them engaged by lots of movement. She said she even allows them to play with a stuffed animal during Zoom classes to prevent boredom. 

Irigoyen started in-person classes in October 2020. She said the studio was in danger of closing, so she made the decision to resume in-person classes again. She wanted to continue allowing Zoom classes as well to give parents the option. “Opening up was the best decision I made because at the beginning of the year, we started at maybe 130 students. Now we’re at 170, and we keep growing,” said Irigoyen. 

Students and parents are required to wear a mask and have their temperature taken upon entrance. She said she hasn’t had anyone come in with a high temperature yet, but if it happens, they are required to go back home. There are marked squares on the floor to help children dance six feet apart and hand sanitizer is available. She disinfects every surface people touch, such as the ballet bars. “We’re being extremely safe and so far, we’ve been good,” Irigoyen said. 

Irigoyen said many people were judgmental about her decision to reopen. She wants to let others know to focus on love and positivity and said if people do that, things will start looking up. 

There will be a filmed performance in June. The theme for the recital is Resilient. She said she named it as such because throughout the pandemic, everyone has been resilient no matter what was thrown at them. The dates are tentative as she’s not sure if there will be an audience. She hopes to have the performance at Southwest High School’s Jimmy Cannon Theatre. 

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