Cleo Parker Robinson's Cyber Dance 2020 brings dance classes virtual

As dozens of dance studios sit idle across the metro area, one prominent company is moving deliberately into the virtual world.

“Federal funding that trickles down to Colorado from the (National Endowment for the Arts) is typically around $15,000 to $20,000,” said Malik Robinson, executive director of Denver’s Cleo Parker Robinson Dance (CRPD). “Some folks are facing some pretty large gaps and that will certainly help, but it’s just not going to address it in (a) significant way.”

To cope, Robinson’s nearly 50-year-old Five Points-neighborhood institution — known for its focus on African-American stories — on Monday launched its Cyber Dance 2020 program.

The tongue-in-cheek marketing, featuring a vintage image of founder Cleo Parker Robinson decked out in 1980s, “Flashdance”-style workout attire, belies a serious concern.

“Like all of Colorado, these weeks of closures and shelter-in-place have devastated our budget and our programs,” founder Cleo Parker Robinson wrote on the company’s website. “However, our staff is working diligently to pivot quickly and effectively in the virtual world to physically distance ourselves from one another while staying socially connected.”

Some classes, such as a 45-minute live-streamed barre instruction with rehearsal director Chloe-Grant Abel, are free to watch via Robinson’s Instagram page at Recordings of them and other archived performances will remain available on

Virtual classes require a free registration and a “pick-your-price” donation that goes toward supporting the artists and the company. Classes can be viewed at One-on-one instruction is also available upon request.

“Class prices are $5-$20 dollars and include offerings from 4 minutes to 30 minutes,” CRPD director of development Hillary Harding wrote in an email. “New offerings will be added over the coming weeks. Scholarships for these classes are available. Contact [email protected] for that information.”

Once you pay for access to one link, you will have unlimited access to it as long as the class is posted, the company said on its website. People wishing to generally donate can visit

The move is both survival tactic and artistic outreach for the respected company, which typically runs 55 classes per week and serves 1,400 students between its studios at 119 Park Avenue West and its programs at Metropolitan State University. It has regularly received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and traveled to 40 countries on five continents over its lifespan to perform.

CPRD faces an immediate funding gap due to its academy classes being shut down for the rest of the season, as well as loss of revenue from the shows that would have rounded out its 2019-2020 artistic season. The company also rents out its 240-seat theater to more than 20 outside organizations. The theater’s closure from March until May means a loss of 30 percent of that annual revenue, Malik Robinson said.

As the company realized it had to abandon the rest of its 49th season, CRPD put into effect a hiring freeze that affected three new hires in the 2020 budget. It also put a moratorium on most spending and cut hours for all contract staff. CPRD continues to pay its professional ensemble dancers and full-time staff, the company said, mimicking efforts from Wonderbound, Colorado Ballet and other companies.

Every dance begins with a first step, and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance is ready to take a new step of our own. We're about to launch Cyber Dance 2020, a fun and easy way for all of you to join us for the joy of movement, through on-line classes, Cleo Chats, and an assortment of other events. During this challenging time, we know how vital it is to the health of mind, body, and spirit to keep moving both physically and mentally! Whether you are a long-time student or audience patron—or you've always wanted to be but were never quite able. Cyber Dance 2020 allows you to keep connected with CPRD during this time of social distancing. We want all of you to take this first step right along with us in this new dance—Cyber Dance 2020!! Let's stay well—let's stay connected… and let's dance! Visit for more information! #FollowTheMovement #CPRD

A post shared by Cleo Parker Robinson Dance (@cleodance) on

At the moment, the company foresees a loss of about $900,000 across its 2020 programs, with year-over-year drops in both contributed and earned income projected for May. That takes into account fundraising, such as a planned, March 31 showcase event that would have rolled out CPRD’s 50th anniversary events for the 2020-21 artistic season.

“The sudden loss of touring income, performances and theater revenue from our partners, as well as the loss of tuition and our summer academy, has been difficult for us to deal with,” Malik Robinson said. “Over the past few years we’ve really been growing the organization and anticipated another great year of growth, which is reflected in March and April numbers.”

The nonprofit company’s total budget for 2019 was a relatively modest $1.6 million, but it had been growing steadily since 2014, when it was $836,275, according to a company fact sheet. That continued growth now seems doubtful.

It’s a particularly distressing situation for CRPD as it approaches what was supposed to be its triumphant 50th season, set to run from September 2020 through May 2021. Malik Robinson, who is board chairman for the Washington, D.C.-based Dance USA, said that company is also considering moving the Dance USA national conference — planned for June 17-20 in Denver — completely online.

Cleo Parker Robinson, Malik’s mother, has received a Kennedy Center Medal of Honor and sat on President Bill Clinton’s National Council on the Arts in 1999. She is well-known in the dance world for her decades-long mission to preserve and refresh the work of African-American choreographers while mixing elements of traditional dance, African diaspora and contemporary ballet.

CPRD’s Ensemble, for example, is one of the only companies authorized to present certain works from legendary choreographers such as Katherine Dunham and Donald McKayle.

The elder Robinson, who has collaborated with everyone from Harry Belafonte to Maya Angelou, has also hosted the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference in Denver in the past.

Upcoming programs “for all ages and levels of ability” are still being organized, said spokeswoman Patricia Smith. CRPD is also offering links to schools to fill in the gaps left by the coronavirus shutdown. The company last year served 20,000 metro-area elementary, middle-school and high-school students at 80 schools with its educational outreach programs. Interested educators can  email [email protected] for links to new content, the company said.

The moves to replicate CRPD’s academy classes are not unique to Robinson’s company. CRPD was already in the process of taking steps to go online with a podcast (the first episode will premiere soon, the company promises) and other digital efforts, mimicking offerings from Wonderbound, Ballet Ariel, Colorado Ballet and others to keep audiences connected during the indefinite coronavirus shutdown.

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