It should be the Southport Weekender

5 June 2020 was supposed to be the opening day of the Ceroc Escape Scorch Weekender in Southport.  As I write this opening paragraph, people would have been setting out from every corner of the land to meet up at one of the biggest weekenders in the Ceroc dance calendar. Of course, the Coronavirus pandemic had put a stop to all these people’s plans.

I have to admit that I’ve coped very well with the lack of dancing over the past three months as I’ve buried my writing head into my dance novel, but this morning I felt a real sense of sadness.  This sadness was compounded when I received a WhatsApp message from one of my dance friends.  Scorch was to have been her first dance weekender.  Her message said it all.

I redirect my energies

Because I have been so absorbed by my novel project I’ve pushed any thoughts about the resumption of dancing to the back of my mind.  The energy, that I used to expend on dancing, has been used up instead on walking, bird watching and gardening.  The time I gave to writing my blog has been taken up instead by the penning of my novel based around this wonderful dance scene.   I think one of the reasons I didn’t want to think about when dancing would restart was because, deep down, I knew the answer and quite frankly it was a demoralising one.

When dancing effectively close down on 16 March, I decided to close my blog down once I worked through my backlog of articles.  These final articles were ones about my Top Five Weekenders (17 March), my Top Five DJ Slots (24 March).  My last piece of writing was to update my Quick Notes section with a story about my disappointment at the cancellation of the Modern Jive World Championships in Blackpool and my intention to write my novel, which I titled My Lockdown Life Starts (1 April).

While I have been very impressed with the virtual events that so many people and organisations have put on to maintain the interest in dancing, I decided that my talent lies in writing about live dancing and that normal service would only be resumed once dancing fully started up again.  I now got stuck into my novel and lost myself in an imaginary world filled with material from my last ten years on the Ceroc and Modern Jive dance floor.

As of 4 June I’d written 137 pages

When might dancing start again?

I now find myself asking when will dancing start up again.  I’m not going to make any predictions but I am sure that it will be a long time before we are allowed onto the dance floor again.  Even now as the UK lockdown restrictions are loosened, we are constantly reminded of the need to maintain social distancing.  Whether that is two metres or one metre, it’s obvious that we can’t dance while any social distancing is mandatory.

Having said that, I thought it might be worthwhile to put some of my thoughts down, as they were at the beginning of June, and then look back on them as the weeks ticked by.  It will be interesting to see how things have moved on.  So, expect a new article in a month’s time when I do just that.  Hopefully, by then we will all be able to see some positive signs as to when our exile from the dance floor might be over and normal service will be resumed on my blog.

So what’s happening in other parts of the world?

In wanting to try to give an interesting perspective to this article I thought I might take a look at what is happening in Australia and New Zealand where lockdown is being eased earlier than here in the UK.  What’s happens in these countries might give us an idea of the timeline towards the opening of dance venues in the UK.

I got this idea after Shane McIntyre got in touch with me from Sydney in Australia.  Shane, like so many teachers and dance organisations here in the UK, saw his major income stream suddenly cut off.  In an attempt to generate some cash flow he and his business partner Keri McLean added an impressive online teaching facility to their website.  When I saw pictures of people sat again in coffee bars in Sydney, I looked up his website again.  I saw the encouraging news that Shane and Keri were now able to offer some form of teaching again.

As of 15 May outdoor lessons were allowed again

Modern Jive is big in Australia

Before I take a closer look at how the lockdown is easing in Australia, I thought I’d give you a little insight into the Ceroc and Modern Jive scene down under.  It seems it’s very vibrant.  This is what Shane told me in one of our communications:

In 2020, Down Under, dance classes were cracking.  Modern Jive was alive and growing.  Group classes looked good and numbers were healthy at dance parties (our freestyles).

This dance has been a huge part of the dance community in Australia since the ’90s and has been a staple of the social dance scene across the country ever since.

So good was the dance scene down under that Shane & Keri were getting ready to travel across Australia teaching and performing.  Shane also tells me that they were looking forward to performing overseas and then running their dance cruises back in Aus.  It’s also worth noting that several of my dance friends who have been on holiday in Sydney have called in on dance classes and been made to feel very welcome.

A still from one of Shane & Keri’s class videoes

Australia comes out of lockdown before us

While life is still a long way from being normal down under, Aussies can now enjoy leisure activities that are still denied us here in the UK.  It’s worth remembering that in Australia they have different rules in each state.  Shane operates in Sydney, New South Wales, and as we’ll see later there are different rules in other states. Here’s Shane again, describing the freedoms that were allowed from 15 May in NSW.

2 months down the track, we can now cheer and leap for joy as the government finally relaxes into stage 1 and 2 of social distancing rules.  This allows up to 10 people in restaurants, playing outdoor sports, holding outdoor Boot Camps such as Line Dance, Yoga, fitness and tennis, as long as we keep our social distance of 1.5 meters.

It’s this relaxation that has allowed Shane and Keri to restart up their Line Dance classes.  I also noted on Shane’s website that five people are now allowed in households and this has enabled them to offer private lessons.  I asked Shane if this meant that they could offer partner dancing classes.

Yes, we can currently do private lessons with one couple at a time.  As of 13 June, we are allowed ten people in a partner dance class like Modern Jive.

This seems a real positive step forward, but Shane explained that this relaxation of the rules does come with some caveats:

People will be asked to do the lesson as fixed partners as they’ll be no rotating.  Preferably people’s partners will be from the same household, husband and wife, or boyfriend and girlfriend.

We also have to track everyone who comes and goes for the classes, provide hand sanitisers and have a defined cleaning regime.  We also have a 10-minute break between classes to remove the 1st group class and allow 2nd stream of couples in and so on.

The mentioning of fixed partners is interesting.  While one of the appeals of Ceroc and Modern Jive is that we get a chance to dance with each other, I suppose it’s a start.

Cafes in Sydney have been open since 15 May

Australia is well ahead of the UK

Australia is some way ahead of us in relaxing lockdown measures, but it is also worth noting where they are in the fight against the virus.  I found a government report, dated 7 June that shows that Australia had just about won the battle against coronavirus.  There were no deaths, no new infections and only 450 active Corvid-19 cases.

Sadly the UK’s infection rates are a long way from looking so positive.  If Australia only feels safe to offer limited dance lessons, with virtually no new infections or Corvid related deaths, it doesn’t bode well for our own transition back to dance normality when infection rates are still high in the UK.

Is there any prospect of partner dancing soon?

In light of seeing these statistics, I wondered what this meant for the prospects of unrestricted partner dancing in Australia, where people are free to ask anyone to dance.  Here Shane’s take on how long it will be before dancing gets back to normal in Australia.

I think we might be a few months away from Modern Jive dancing as we knew it.  Perhaps July if gyms do well, although I’m looking at August before everything’s back to normal.  One thing is for sure we are eager to start back to dance!

I asked Shane when party dances (our freestyle) might start up again.  It seems one of the problems is with the venues.  They are currently restricted to the number of people they can allow in at any one time.  It’s this restriction on numbers that may delay party dances to take place.

If Australia might only start dancing again properly in August, it gives us an indication when we might resume once we have the virus beaten.  And there is the key to all this – the phrase When we have the virus beaten.  Sadly, in the UK, we are a long way off the day when we have no new infections.  I suppose it all hinges on our government’s definition of When the virus is defeated.

It’s the numbers that give the dance floor its buzz.  Photo courtesy of Tel Jenkins

You can Tango in Perth

It’s better news in Western Australia, where Perth is situated.  Shane tells me they have removed all restrictions:

They have relaxed all the rules and sent everyone back to normal.  No more social distancing, yes even Argentine Tango classes are running.

With Western Australia back to normal, Shane is hopeful that the other states will follow suit soon.  Again he adds a caveat:

Fingers crossed no spikes in COVID while all this is happening.

The dreaded second wave.  It seems that this is what is worrying many Freestyle and Weekender organisers in the UK.

Time to dance in New Zealand

Across the Tasman Sea, there is even better news.  As I was putting the finishing touches to this article it was announced New Zealand had officially beaten Coronavirus and there were now no infected people.  On 8 June it was announced that all restrictions had been lifted, including any need to practise social distancing.  Life was to go back to normal and that meant that the social dancing scene could carry on as before.

Like Australia, New Zealand has a vibrant Modern Jive dance scene.  I remember seeing two participants from NZ walking off with medals at the Modern Jive World Championships at Blackpool last year.

Searching for an image I could include in this post, I found this on the BBC Website.  It shows The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announcing that life could go back to normal.  Earlier the Health Minister had announced that NZ had gone seventeen days without any new cases of Corvid-19.  What I loved was the quote the BBC included under the video.  I think we will all do a similar dance when the same thing happens in the UK.

The Human Spirit lives on Hope

In this fantastic news for New Zealand’s dancers, is the sobering thought that the lifting of restrictions only came after the country was free of infections for seventeen days.  Is this what has to happen in the UK?  It’s this reason, that many people have said to me that they can not see any dancing this side of Christmas.  That is a very sad thought.

I am a great believer that the human spirit lives on the hope that things will always improve.  So for that reason, I am hanging my hopes on two weekenders taking place.  The first is The Ceroc Aberdeen Weekender in mid-November and a week later the MJRoc one at Warmwell.

While we have all been locked down my great friend Tel Jenkins found time to put together a video of the Warmwell Weekender from 2019.  Because my blog was effectively closed down, I have yet to include it in any of my postings.  As a way of sharing my hope that we will get back dancing before Christmas here is Tel’s video.  It captures not only the joy that we experienced at Warmwell but the joy we all feel every time we step onto a dance floor with a partner.

Next time – Sweden and Spain 

I’ll be back to write an update at the beginning of July.  Hopefully, Shane will be telling me that he is looking forward to starting up his party dances (freestyles).  I’ll also be taking a look at what’s happening in Sweden and on the Costa Blanca in Spain.  Sweden, of course, didn’t impose a lockdown on its people and I’ll be looking at whether any dancing has taken place in the meantime.  Spain entered lockdown nine days before the UK and has been more successful in bringing its infection rate down.  There is a chance they will start dancing before ourselves.  I’ll be hoping to find out what the dancers on the Costa Blanca think the prospects are.

My thanks to Shane McIntyre

I’d like to extend my thanks to Shane McIntyre for his help with this article.  The picture of what is happening over in Sydney and Perth gives us a better idea of what the future might hold for social dancing in the UK.  If you ever get to holiday in the Sydney area then please call in on one of Shane’s classes.  All the details are to be found on his website, ShaneKeriDance.com.au