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PHASE 2 of Covid-19: Tips for restarting salsa and social dance classes in Vancouver

Little has been said about how the dance industry has been affected by Covid-19, but you can safely guess that it’s been entirely shut down. I can’t recall the word “social dance” being mentioned in news briefings when there are discussions about resuming important activities affected; yet, social dancing is vital to our well-being as it keeps us all emotionally healthy. Now that the green light has been given for gyms, yoga and dance to start again, as instructors we must have a very clear idea of how dance lessons are allowed to take place, in order to properly proceed in compliance with the new safety regulations, and to also avoid a fine. Some people in the social dance scene seem overly enthusiastic about the lifting of restrictions, not fully aware of the language used by our health authorities. I would like to offer some insight into what we really are permitted to do as of now in terms of classes (including salsa), so that we make informed decisions moving forward. I will also provide here some tips that could help you get your dance classes started if you are a teacher, observing the health standards set by our local officials.

As a general rule, any dance form that involves touching or holding another human, does not qualify as an activity that’s Ok to resume on May 19th. Period. You must also realize that what BC is authorizing to happen is dance lessons, not parties. Social dancing, one of the most important human activities ever, has been dealt a paradoxical blow by Covid-19. Historically an invaluable source of connection and joy, social dancing became one of the first victims of this globe-trotting microscopic devil, for obvious reasons. In normal times, the closeness provided by social dancing is amazing and very much needed, especially in urban settings like our big cities where there’s plenty of human disconnection, but right now in some parts of the world that closeness could put your life in serious jeopardy. Unfortunately, some folks haven’t fully grasped the direness of dancing in close proximity and why it had been ordered to stop. If that’s your case, let’s take a quick pause and allow me to enlighten you a little.

Salsa dancing, where we’re constantly holding hands, turning and spinning with a smile from ear to ear, is for coronavirus like getting on a ride at Playland, happily twirling and orbiting around us, till it gets in. Partner dancing Bachata and Merengue poses similar risks. Crotchata, also known as Sensual Bachata, is easy for transmission given the theatrical intensity of every move (the coronavirus absolutely loves that part where the lead grabs the woman’s head and shakes it around). Kizomba lends itself for contagion, too, especially when you dance it encephalic-fusion-style (head to head), or the follower does the levitating mermaid move, with every torso contortion bringing about deep exhaling --ask any diaphragm if this is true and they’ll confirm it. Let’s not even talk about how elated the coronavirus would be to participate in a Rueda dance! Humorous language set aside, these are the reasons why we cannot be teaching social dance lessons based on constant touch at the moment, but don’t feel too discouraged dear instructors, for I’ve also got good news: I’m about to list a few things that as a teacher you could certainly do to get the dancing going. These tips are equally useful for dance students, since they’ll need to learn the protocol of the new normal, too.

The idea is to engage in a teaching activity that can guarantee social distancing, and create a plan that clearly and publicly outlines how you’re implementing it. What you’ll be reading in this blog won’t be enough. You have to visit the WorkSafeBC website where they have social distancing guidelines for different industries, but be warned that as of today, I wasn’t able to identify instructions specific for dance studios. Anyway, let’s first assess our Phase 2 plan from a dance perspective: whatever you teach, it has got to be a dance that can be performed independently, thus guaranteeing no touching and the required 2-meter distance among students. This means that if you’ve solely focused your teaching on partner dancing until now, you will need to be creative here and find a way to get your students dancing by themselves. It can be done, and it can actually be very, very useful for them. For example: I have conceived a new series of SDC Dance Classes (SDC meaning social-distance-conscious; yep, my contribution to English language). These lessons that I’m shamelessly promoting here are a space where my students will learn things like Salsa Suelta, Dominican Bachata and Cuban Rumba, individually. When eventually life can get back to normal, my students will be able to apply in a partner dance setting everything they’ll have learnt in this special course. It is clear that people who teach hip hop, afro, jazz, belly dancing, flamenco and the like don’t have to worry about none of these adaptations, since those dances are commonly performed solo. This a challenge for us partner dance teachers, but you can turn it into an opportunity for further learning and growth.

Once you’ve identified what you’ll teach, the next step will be to deliver your lessons applying the social distancing safety measures. Here are some things to look for:

· Find a dance space that allows you to keep everyone sufficiently apart. Ideally, there will be windows and doors constantly open for air flow, and/or a ceiling that’s high enough. If you could teach outdoors, that would be even better, but Vancouver’s unpredictable weather might affect you, as well as the logistics of sound, location, etc. Outdoors would definitely be a great setting for teaching, though you’ll still have to preserve the necessary distancing among people.

· Wherever you teach, post a sign clearly stating the safety protocol you’ve established.

· Mark the floors with tape indicating the precise spots where everyone will have to dance.

· Possibly, require your students to bring a mask to class, and for sure have them bring their own water.

· Require everyone to wash their hands or sanitize upon entering the studio.

· Provide hand sanitizer as well.

· Require whoever feels unwell, or has been in proximity with someone ill, to not attend class.

· Teach 2 meters apart from your students.

These are just some ideas. Bear in mind that we’re looking at a new, unfamiliar protocol for human interaction. Getting used to it will require an empirical component where awkward situations will inevitably arise. Let’s just keep a positive, understanding, and supportive attitude throughout, for our collective good. Please, refer to the WorkSafeBc link above for more tips on what you can do to implement social distancing in your dance class.

All the safety measures I’ve listed might seem like a lot of work, but we should embrace them with optimism because they simply mean WE CAN DANCE AGAIN. The main obstacle we’ll have to collectively overcome in resuming our healthy dancing life, is fear. While some people can’t wait to bust a move, others will be fearful to engage, and that’s just the way it is when society has been shocked by a life-altering event like covid-19. Fortunately, we live in a part of Canada that has experienced tremendous success as containing the spread, and for that I’m immensely grateful. I’m glad our health authorities have allowed an opening for those who want to recover their well-being in the form of dancing and fitness, even if that has to happen with logical, necessary limitations. As dance instructors, let’s contribute to the new normal in the most responsible way, so that we’re not deprived from dancing again.

Any other helpful ideas are very much welcome.

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