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17: Coronavirus: What Dancers & Organisers Need to Know 

Ballroom Status:  RED
(social dancing not currently possible)

Summary:  Dance studios are permitted to open (along with other leisure facilities), but must take measures to ensure social distancing and/or PPE – such as one way systems and a separate entrance and exit.  Limits imposed on numbers according to size of hall/studio.  Enhanced ventilation required.

In my opinion general social dancing remains inadvisable, and gatherings (that would include social dancing) are not currently permitted.  Sociallising is incompatible with distancing, and no practical amount of ventilation in an indoor space can adequately mitigate the risk of contagion by slip-streaming (one person passing through the “cloud” left by another).

Posted 26/05/2020, latest updated 5/08/2020 (regulations revised 25/07/2020)

Nobody can possibly remain unaware of the impact SARS-CoV-2 has had on recreational activities such as ballroom dancing, although I regret a few dancers and organisers were very slow to react at the beginning.  Organisers, in particular, have a duty of care.

I want to get dancing again no less than anyone else.  It is my only means of socialising, and my only exercise.  But no matter how desperate, we cannot bury our heads in the sand and ignore the situation.

The basic facts:

There are a number of factors which have made SARS-CoV-2 particularly dangerous, especially to ballroom dancers:

SARS-CoV-2 will remain a blot on the landscape until it can be eradicated, or until there is a vaccination which confers immunity.  Until then, individuals have to balance need against risk: is the risk of contracting Covid-19, and the consequences to their household and contacts if they do, proportionate to the activity concerned?  It is necessary to earn your living or do your shopping... going dancing or on a day trip is not necessary (however much you might enjoy it), and not worth taking a risk or risking other lives for.

Recovering from Covid-19 might confer full or partial immunity, nobody is sure yet, and that is not sufficient reason to deliberately catch it and risk severe illness or death.  Neither do we know whether SARS-CoV-2 might mutate and become virulent again, in the way ’flu does.

In case you don’t want to read any further, the summary of what follows is: social dances cannot currently be conducted within the law.  I am, frankly, disgusted that some dance organisers are so negligent as to continue to advertise events on AYD, and AYD themselves have had to post a disclaimer.

The Legal Position

Bearing in mind I am not a lawyer, my considered assessment is that no matter how desperate we might all be to resume dancing, right now it is neither advisable nor legal.

The following is the situation as I assess it to be, and applies specifically to England only (Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have their own legislation, which must be checked if they apply to your locality or if you would have to travel through those regions).  Readers should take it as a starting point rather than a be-all-and-end-all, and make their own minds up.

The law (as regards special measures enacted for the coronavirus emergency) is The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, which came into effect on 26th March with a nominal duration of 6 months.  The regulations are regularly reviewed, and updated when changes are announced, such as on 13th May when some restrictions were relaxed.  Initial restrictions (by request of the Prime Minister) were announced prior to that, on 16th March.

The current version of the regulation is available on-line: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/350

In addition to the legislation, there are hundreds of pages of official guidance which are the conditions under which businesses are permitted to trade.  These specify measures for social distancing, risk assessments, etc.

As of 25/07/2020: Dance studios are permitted to open (along with other leisure facilities) in recognition of their proprietors’ need to generate income.  This was not originally in the government’s road map, but is thought to be the result of lobbying by the ISTD.

Guidance requires enhanced ventilation, social distancing measures, and cleaning of potentially contaminated surfaces/objects (amongst other things).  100 sq.ft of floor space is required per person (that’s a square 10 ft / 3m on a side).

Advice for professionals regarding interpreting the guidance is available via the ISTD, ITDA, and BDC websites.

However, these measures apply specifically to businesses whose trade is running dance classes etc.  General dances must conform to the current laws regarding gatherings, which were relaxed to 30 people from two households or 6 people from different households, but have since been restricted again.

Government Advice

Any “rules” not specifically stated in these (and other) regulations are only non-enforcible recommendations without weight of law.  For example: the blanket instruction for the over-70’s to self-isolate for a period of 12 weeks from 26th March is only advice, not law.  It is up to each individual to decide how the situation applies to them, and conduct themselves as the see fit within the letter of the regulation.

That said, the advice was based on the general principle that the over-70’s are more likely to have conditions which increase their likelihood of death or requiring life support, should they contract Covid-19.  Nonetheless, it has no legal weight.

The enforcement agencies do not necessarily see things the same way.  They have the powers to enforce the law and only the law, but they impose their own additional restrictions to make the situation easier to police.  They will take measures which deny individuals their rights within the law if it prevents or discourages others from flouting the law.  They might also intervene if government advice is disregarded, because they believe it to be for the individual’s safety or for the protection of the public.  Anyone challenging their authority would have to do so through the courts, which are not likely to be sympathetic, although some measures have already been condemned as too restrictive (such as preventing people driving to a place for exercise, which was never outlawed by the regulations).

Where current government advice is less restrictive than the letter of the law, clearly it is unlikely anyone would be convicted for following government advice rather than the law.

Beyond Legal Considerations

The laws and official advice were put into place not to protect the individual, but to prevent critical services becoming overwhelmed.  Plenty of publicity surrounded hospital capacity and workers, but there are a large number of public and commercial services necessary to maintain hospitals, or even a modern way of life: food and other consumables manufacture, import, warehousing, distribution; transport; electricity supply; water; waste collection and disposal; sewerage; infrastructure maintenance; national and local government; finance; communications (including entertainment – can you imagine what this would have been like without the telly or the Internet?)...  The list is almost endless.

Everyone involved in keeping the country running is a key worker, whether identified as such or not, and the country cannot afford to have too great a proportion of key workers out of circulation for too long, otherwise we would revert to conditions of the Dark Ages.  That was (and is) what “lock-down” is all about.

It is a matter of national necessity that key workers are able and willing to work, but they might have no choice than to take risks with their personal health by so doing.

Non-key workers might find it a necessity to return to making an income as soon as possible.  This is the current phase of the easing of restrictions: aimed at getting people back to work in some way, so that they are no longer dependent on support from the Exchequer, and taxes start coming in again.  Nonetheless, even with a degree of protection, there is still risk.  The Government aims to keep the risk low enough that the epidemic does not blow up again, but (for the individual) there remains a finite risk involved in returning into circulation.

Whether these non-key people will find it worthwhile to return to work is a moot point: they are, by definition, in non-essential services, and who would risk their health by shopping for a new set of curtains (for example)?  However, the general masses seem not to think about risk, only personal gratification.  Witness the crowds on beaches, and their terrible anti-social behaviour by leaving piles of rubbish.  I hope dancers are better than that.

Those of independent means (eg on a pension) can easily choose not to take risks with their own or their families’ health, or at least to minimise risk, by remaining out of circulation except for essentials.  We do not need to go to the pub, or on holiday, or dancing.  It is a matter of balancing the benefit against the risk, but we do not have a definitive measurement of the risk involved so we cannot conclude that any unnecessary risk is worth taking.

SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay, and it will continue to pose a risk, possibly for years to come.  Covid-19 is not the 'flu.  Many people contract SARS-CoV-2 with only minor ill effects, some have no symptoms at all.  Without testing, it is not possible to tell whether anyone is free of the virus, or might be spreading it.  Of those who do fall seriously ill with it, for some it will prove fatal.

There are other potentially fatal diseases of course, but these are controlled by vaccination and pose a very low risk.  Until Covid-19 is similarly controlled (by vaccination or natural immunity) and poses a similarly low risk, anyone attending a dance with many other dancers in an enclosed space will be choosing to accept the risk of contracting Covid-19, spreading it within their own household and contacts, and the possibility of dying from it.

It might become possible to run a dance, but whether it is advisable is a different matter.

Social distancing only works in the open air, or, if in an enclosed space, only under conditions of no physical exersion.  Events that were allowed to take place before 26th March involving crowds without social distancing (such as the Cheltenham races) became super-spreading events.  Events indoors that involve deep breathing (such as choir concerts and gyms), even when social-distanced, have also been implicated in peaks of infection.

In the open air, the concentration of infection in the air dissipates by the free exchange of air.  In an enclosed space such dissipation is limited, and if anyone is infecting that space it is building up in the air and on surfaces.  Anything less than full surgical PPE is only partially effective.  It might (just) be possible to dance and maintain social distancing, but is it possible to dance and avoid breathing somebody elses exhailed air?

With regard to attending a dance:

Running a dance:

I am not saying you must not take the risk; what I am saying is you need to be aware of the risk and decide for yourself whether the risk is acceptable in your particular circumstances.  I am not saying what will happen, I am pointing out what could happen.  To quote a recent circular from a well-known organiser: “Neither we... want to be the cause of illness, (of any kind)”, and it seems obvious that the only way to guarantee that is not to run a dance at all.

For my part: I know that taking even the slightest risk could compromise my caring responsibilities, so I am only taking necessary risks not unnecessary ones.

The Moral Position

The moral position is very simple: you can only choose to take risks yourself; you cannot accept risk on behalf of anyone else or make assumptions regarding their attitude to risk.  The problem is not whether you might decide to organise or attend a gathering at your own risk, but who else might be affected if your gamble doesn’t pay off.

If we are lucky, a vaccine will stop Covid-19 in its tracks, or SARS-CoV-2 will lose its virulence naturally.  Only then will we be able to return to the situation we enjoyed before, without anything to fear.  I believe this was inevitable, sooner or later, and we have to be grateful it wasn’t sooner.