About a week ago, I read an article published on iLindy.com called Discussion Points: the Future Health & Safety for Lindy Hop. The author did a remarkably good job of discussing what has to happen to return to dancing as usual. They didn’t have all the answers, but addressed point after point to the best of their ability. Like the folks at iLindy, I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m going to try to share some thoughts and address as many points as possible.
One of the things that has made it so hard to write something like this, is everything changes so quickly. Between the time I started writing this article and its completion, I expect Virginia will have moved into “Phase 2,” although I’m not entirely sure what that means for us. What I have seen that seems to best apply to us is that gyms may have indoor fitness classes at 30% capacity, if social distancing and masking is maintained.
There’s three elements there that I feel the need to address, plus a few of my own: (1) 30% capacity, (2) social distancing, (3) masks, plus (4) exposure bubbles, and (5) duration.
The first element is relatively easy to address at Sapphire, as long as we agree that dance parties are a thing of the somewhat distant future. (Sad, but necessary.)
Private lessons typically involve 3 people - two students and a teacher. Even if we by some chance end up with two lessons going at the same time, it’s easily below 30% of our capacity.
Group classes are typically 6-14 students, plus a teacher. When group classes start, whenever that might be, we can limit them to 6-10 students and be fine, at least numbers-wise.
Again thinking of private lessons first, the majority of our students are dancing with someone they live with and therefore already part of their “exposure bubble.” For them, the only distance that needs to be maintained is between the couple dancing and their teacher. At more than 40ft x 60ft, our dance floor is more than large enough to accommodate this.
In a group lesson, as long as we’re sticking to that 6-10 student limit, we again have plenty of space. To keep everyone’s exposure bubbles intact, partners would not be able to rotate during a class. This would be really disappointing to so many of our dedicated dancers, but we can endure it. (I frequently hear from students in our online lessons that they miss dancing “with people,” even the ones quarantine with their dance partner. When I say but you have a “people” they always say “I know. I’m lucky. But I miss dancing with everyone.” :) So - no rotation for now.
That leaves masks. From what I’ve been reading, the real danger of infection comes from particles hanging in the air. The number of these particles increases when your breathing increases with exertion, when you cough or sneeze. All three of those events are going to happen at some point during the typical dance lesson.
We have to wear masks. Everyone - students and teachers. And that is just not comfortable for most of us. A mask will make it substantially harder for the teacher to speak clearly. A mask might make it hard to breathe, especially during vigorous movement. A mask will definitely be annoying by the end of an hour-long lesson. Read more about masks here. I’m not sure how to overcome this challenge at this point.
Exponentially expanding bubbles
Many of us are cautiously opening our exposure bubbles - adding a friend or family member to the mix - and thinking about the consequences of doing so. If my child plays with your child, your family is now exposed to everyone that my family has been exposed to. Now apply that to dance lessons: if you come in for a private lesson with me, you are now exposed to everyone I have been exposed to, including my other lessons, my children, etc. And even more if you’re in a group lesson.
All of the teachers at Sapphire also have to consider their exposure to student after student (and all that implies) and what that means to their families and primary jobs. Many of us are not in a situation where we can open up that extensively, yet.
The amount of time spent in the company of another person has a dramatic effect on the level of exposure. Our lessons are typically 50 minutes long for several reasons. If you'd like to discuss those reasons, I'm happy to talk to you. But even if we try shorter lessons (I'm not saying that's really a good option, but if it were…), it's not the same as a casual encounter like passing someone in the hall at work. Prolonged exposure magnifies all the other risk factors.
Conclusion and Actions
This is where my heart gets heavy. I do not think we can return to anything like “normal” dancing until we can be in the same room without masks.
But, in-person private lessons are coming in our immediate future. Small group classes, hopefully, will be back shortly after. When this happens, we will do everything we can to make it as safe as possible to hold private lessons:
- add buffer times between private lessons to let the air in the studio be filtered,
- leave the doors propped open keeping a flow of fresh air moving through the space,
- sanitize surfaces frequently, and
- require hand washing between lessons.
In the meantime, we will continue to offer online lessons. These lessons are safe from COVID-19 exposure and really do work. There are beginner lessons every Friday, we are starting Saturday Morning Shag Lessons June 13 (see more above), What’s Next Workshops on Mondays, and private lessons based on your schedule. You can take any of the group lessons for FREE and then decide if you want to contribute to the Sapphire’s finances. And online private lessons are incredibly cheap - only $100 for 4 lessons. That’s less than half the standard price for private lessons. More details about online lessons available at online.SapphireDance.com.
There is no reason to wait. You need something safe and fun to do and we need people to teach to nourish our souls during this crazy time.
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