Saturday, October 16, 2021

Who knew dancers were so dangerous?

What does our government have against dance? I have asked this question over and over, and I still haven't received a satisfactory answer, or, in fact, any answer at all.

For a long time I thought our provincial leaders were simply oblivious to the mere existence of social dance. They are most certainly oblivious to its many benefits (more on that later). But now I have become convinced they actually do have something against it and against us. The only public mention of our neglected sector in a recent press conference announcing the loosening of Covid measures in all areas of entertainment except dance was something along the lines of, "Young people dancing in discotheques, no, we're not ready for that yet."

First of all, why is that the only image of dancing presented to us? Crowds of young, irresponsible, drunk kids grinding the night away, spreading their viruses to everyone else in the room. Believe me, I have nothing against dance clubs or discotheques, and I think it's time they be allowed to open, too, but what about the milongas (as tango nights are called), the salsa clubs, the ballroom evenings, not to mention swing, line dancing, square dancing and others. Activities where it's all about the dancing and much less about the cruising or the drinking.

Speaking of drinking, what is with the absolute ban on drinking and dancing in the same place? Since the beginning of the pandemic, the SAQs never once closed. After all, alcohol is apparently an essential service, up there with grocery stores, pharmacies and heart surgery. Even dentist appointments were cancelled early on and my March 2020 appointment with my GP still hasn't been rescheduled. But government-run alcohol sales never stopped, because what else are people to do when they can't eat out, get a haircut, socialize, go to the gym or even go for a walk after 8 p.m.? (I'm pretty sure my nightly wine consumption was responsible for most of the 15 pounds I gained in the first three months of the pandemic – despite daily yoga, dog walks and online teaching.)

Eventually, restaurants and even bars were allowed to reopen … as long as the dance floors remained closed! So when it comes to booze, it's all you want and all you can drink! But definitely no dancing!
For the purposes of health regulations, dance studios have been lumped in with gyms from the start. So my tango studio is supposed to directly and seamlessly apply the same rules laid out for weight training, running on a treadmill and aerobics classes. Meanwhile, dancing has somehow been outright demonized along with gyms in large part because of one now-infamous Quebec City gym that caused one of the worst superspreader Covid outbreaks in the country. Now, let me be clear, it was a gym. Not a dance studio. And a gym run by an outspoken anti-masker who didn't enforce any sanitary or distancing measures. So was the gym an example of how dangerous social dancing – or even gyms – can be or how dangerous an anti-vax, anti-mask, rules-flouting, irresponsible business-owner can be?

As vaccination levels increase and we look toward the end of the Covid pandemic, just about every country/state/province/city in the world is allowing social dancing again. But not Quebec. There was a tango marathon in Toronto last weekend, which dozens of dance-deprived Montrealers attended. It was advertised as a vaccinated-only event and, as far as I know, there have been no Covid outbreaks associated with it. New York City's tango scene is back in full swing, and, according to a recent New York Times article, Covid has not begun spreading in that tango community either. Almost every country in Europe (with the possible exceptions of Italy and Belgium) now allows social dancing. 

Here in Montreal, since last week, social distancing has been abandoned in restaurants, theatres, concert halls and other sectors. But not in dance studios. So you can now have more than 21,000 screaming hockey or music fans sitting side by side in the Bell Centre for hours at a time, removing their masks to eat their hotdogs and drink their beers, but dance studios are still limited to 25 teetotalling masked dancers. If you happen to have an enormous studio and are thus allowed to surpass 25 dancers, you can then allow no partner changes whatsoever and must enforce the two-metre distancing rule without exceptions. All of which, for tango dancers, means one clear thing: no milongas.

If milongas – here or elsewhere – or similar events had been responsible for some important Covid outbreaks, I would understand a little more. But as far as I know, the outbreaks continue to occur in schools, workplaces and seniors' residences. So why is it the dancers who are being punished?

In my tango studio, we reopened briefly in summer 2020 and have now been running small classes and guided prácticas since July of this year. We follow the extremely restrictive distancing/masking/vaccination rules pretty closely and have had a grand total of one student who reported having Covid in almost two years, but it was neither caught nor transmitted at our school or in our community. So where's the terrible danger in the dance world? I know I'm not seeing it.

The physical and psycho-emotional advantages of dancing are well-known. There's the exercise aspect, the socialization aspect. … In any case, the benefits are surely more significant than those of downing a bottle of wine over dinner or sitting in a movie theatre for two and a half hours (as opposed to on the couch in front of Netflix).

Still, somehow, dance, dancers and dance businesses remain in a chokehold while the rest of society is allowed to open up and move forward.

To be clear: I am pro-vaccine and my partner and I have adhered to the rules both in our personal and professional lives from the start. I do not think that masking, vaccinating and taking care of my health and that of the people around me is an unacceptable infringement on my "freedom." But I do believe that we eventually need to learn to live with this virus and that if every other business and every other sector is allowed to move forward, we should be, too. 

The restrictions on dance leave me feeling excluded, forgotten, angry, frustrated and impotent. How about you?


  1. I’m with you 100% Andrea. I recognize that administering a country or province is not easy, especially when faced with a worldwide pandemic. Extraordinary circumstances call for extra ordinary measures and I believed we needed to be patient and cooperative while meeting our individual responsibilities and doing what’s best for the majority. But now that things are under control and that the vaccination rate is high; and now that we are able to lift the ban on huge gatherings in public spaces; it no longer makes any sense that dance studios, schools and halls be subjected to the 25 person limit, whether or not, liquor is served.
    You’re quite right about the fact that putting dance schools and studios in the same category as the gyms is part of the problem. It’s time our gouvernement officials take a closer look and finally realize that operating the dance studios with health measures does not pose a threat to the health situation as we know it.

  2. I fully sympathize with Andrea's frustration at the Quebec government's apparent vendetta against dance venues, and I hope she'll take a crack at getting this post placed as an op-ed in French and English media in Montreal.

    Very interesting to compare COVID restrictions in various cities. As I understand it:
    - Montreal: vaccination, masks while dancing, social distancing, capacity limits
    - Toronto (as of early Nov): vaccination, no masks while dancing, no social distancing, no capacity limits
    - New York: vaccination, no mask requirements, no social distancing, no capacity limits. Interesting experiments with testing, contact tracing and use of air purifiers in milongas--none of this in Canada yet.
    - Buenos Aires: vaccination, no mask requirements, no social distancing, no capacity limits.

    I would feel a lot easier about diving back into dancing myself if the health authorities were gathering and publishing official stats on case numbers and outbreaks in the dance communities of those last three cities (though the anecdotal information from the NY TImes does seem encouraging).