Dancing still seems a long way off

Back in June, I published the first of a series of monthly articles around the question of when we might get back onto the dance floor, and I could resume normal service on my blog.  Rather than speculate what might happen in the UK, I centred my thoughts around what was happening in those countries where lockdown was being eased ahead of the UK, notably Australia and New Zealand.  The article got over six hundred reads in the first week and lots of comments were posted on the Facebook pages where I posted the link to the article.  This interest was no doubt a reflection of the pent up desire to get back on to the dance floor.

Dancing is in full swing in NZ

In my article, I  reported how New Zealand had declared that the battle with the virus had been won, and after going seventeen days without any new infections, all restrictions were lifted.  By way of following up that article, I found my way to the Ceroc Dance, New Zealand website.  On their Home Page, I found a wonderful news item about the resumption of dancing.

It seems that all social distancing restrictions have gone and they are now advertising a full programme of Class Nights, Dance Parties (our freestyles) and Weekend Events.  I’ve put a link to their website below, where you can get more information about how their events are being run with a watchful eye on future Covid 19 infections.

Even though there is no Covid 19 in the community, there is still a requirement that dance clubs engage with contact tracing and the venues are displaying a poster with the New Zealand COVID Tracer QR code.  This is a sensible precaution and is something that we can perhaps expect to be a requirement for all UK dance venues when they are finally allowed to open again.

A view from the 2018 New Zealand National Ceroc Champs

Right, I’m off to New Zealand

Ceroc and Modern Jive are strong in New Zealand and on my first visit to the Modern Jive World Champs back in 2019 I saw dancers from there pick up medals.  I spotted the above photo on Ceroc Dance New Zealand’s Facebook Page.  It shows one of the freestyle sessions during the 2018 National Ceroc Championships and suggests that the dance scene over there is as vibrant as it is in the UK.

I’ve often wondered if I should do a tour of dance venues in New Zealand and Australia for my blog, and have thought seriously about doing that this winter if there is no dancing in the UK.  In reply to a comment from Gail on Facebook, I found myself suggesting just that.  Pleasingly Melanie thought it a good plan.

Perhaps not a good idea after all

The idea of dance tourism sounds like a good idea, but anyone thinking of travelling to New Zealand should be aware of the need to enter a 14 day quarantine period on arrival.  This was brought home to me when two people from the UK were released early from quarantine and were found to be infectious.  No doubt this will lead to a tightening of entry restrictions.

As I write this article there are suggestions about air bridges, where quarantining won’t be required, between the UK and countries where the virus is less prevalent.  Understandably New Zealand is not yet in discussions with the UK about the possibility of removing the need for arrivals to quarantine, but I’ll keep my eye on this for future articles in this series.

Let’s look at Sweden and Spain

In my previous article, I also wrote about how parts of Australia were edging towards dance normality, and I’ll be having another look at what is happening there in my August post.  Today I want to look at what’s happening with dancing in Sweden and Spain.

Back in October of last year, I went along to the Benidorm Jive Weekender in Spain.  It was a joyous four days of dancing and I found myself writing an extended article about my time at the Melia Hotel (see link below).  During my visit, I got to dance with Anneli, Lena and a second Anneli  from Sweden, who had been invited over by a friend in Spain.  They gave me some insight into the dancing in their home country.  While there is no Ceroc or Modern Jive, there is a similar dance style called Bugg that is very popular and West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop both have a significant presence too.

In my review of Benidorm Jive, I featured a video of the three ladies’ dance teacher demonstrating the Bugg technique.  I’ve just watched it again and it brought a big smile to my face.  It is a joyous dance style and it has many similarities with our own Modern Jive.  It’s worth remembering that Modern Jive and Ceroc have their origins in the swing dancing that was popularised by the American soldiers who came over to Europe in the Second World War and I get the impression that Bugg developed from this style too.

We all miss out on our dance holiday

What impressed me was that all the three ladies from Sweden were very adept at following my Modern Jive lead, and I wrote about several wonderful dances I had with them in my review.  I have written many times about the friendships that are made on the dance floor and I was so looking forward to meeting up with them again at the Revolution Dance Holiday in Mallorca in May, along with many of the other people I’d met in Benidorm.

Sadly this holiday became an early victim of the pandemic as Spain and the Balearic Islands locked down.  I’ll be referencing other dance holidays when I get to the section on Spain, but first, let me get back to Sweden.

I was so looking forward to dancing outside in Mallorca.  Picture courtesy of Revolution Dance

So what’s happening in Sweden?

As the pandemic spread across Europe and countries were put into lockdown, Sweden took a different approach to keep the majority of its economy open.  I was still seeing pictures of people going shopping and sitting in bars and coffee shops and wondered if dancing was still allowed.  I decided to message Lena, one of the Swedish ladies I’d met in Benidorm.  Lena kindly explained how life under the coronavirus cloud was in Sweden.

I must admit that I thought that Sweden didn’t have many of the restrictions that have closed dancing down in the UK, and I had my fingers crossed that dancing might still be allowed there.  Sadly, Lena explained that a two-metre social distancing requirement was initially introduced and that all social dancing had been curtailed.  Just as in the UK, all dance teaching went online.

While the two-metre rule has been reduced in Sweden, as it has in the UK, no dancing can take place while there is an insistence on any kind of social distancing.  Sadly there is no indication in Sweden when social dancing will be allowed again.

A ray of nordic sunshine

While much of the economy was kept open, Lena explained to me how people were encouraged to work from home as much as possible and she became one of the millions of people across Europe who continue to work from home.  Lena also confirmed that restaurants were never closed but there was an initial requirement for tables to be two metres apart.  Even with reduced social distancing, it seems that life isn’t much better than in the UK now that our pubs, cafes and restaurants have been allowed to reopen.

In all the information that Lena provided me was, however, one ray of sunshine.  It seems that people have been allowed to meet in each other’s homes from the very beginning of the pandemic and in one of her messages Lena wrote this:

We are allowed to dance at home with friends.

What a wonderful thought that is, for someone like me, who lives on their own.  Wouldn’t it be great to invite someone over for a few dances, but as I write this at the beginning of July, it’s just not allowed here in the UK.  Even when people who lived on their own were allowed to invite another lone person into their home, it was on the condition that this was an exclusive bubble.  This ruling was designed for those people in relationships who lived apart, but not for someone who just wanted a few dances.

I will admit to being somewhat envious of Lena and her friends, especially if this means that dancing proper starts up before the UK.  However, Lena thinks there is still no sign of it starting anytime soon, but I’ll keep my eye on the situation.  Perhaps I’ll get an invite to a house party.  Now I must see if Ryanair do any flights from East Midlands Airport to Stockholm just in case.

Will my next dance trip be to Stockholm?

Spain opens up for tourists

If anywhere was going to start dancing first I thought it would be Spain.  Spain entered lockdown before the UK and it’s infection rates have fallen much faster than those in the UK, but it was Spain’s dependence on tourism and it’s club culture that made me hopeful.  I remember when my daughters were young going to the large hotel complexes on the Costa del Sol.  In the evenings there would always be a variety show followed by a disco.  It was here that my daughters first got a sight of their dancing father – they have still not got over their embarrassment!

So would dancing be allowed in the hotels and night clubs be able to welcome back the party people to the dance floor?  Sadly no.  The reason – social distancing.  In Spain, the requirement remains at one and a half metres.  You can’t Modern Jive with any kind of social distancing and there will be no atmosphere in a club if everyone has to stay five feet away from everyone else.  To maximise the space for drinkers in the Spanish bars, tables are being spread out over the redundant dance floors.

One of the highlights of the aforementioned Benidorm Jive Weekender was the late-night trips to the two bars across the road – The Tropicana and The Rock ‘n’ Roll Bar.  Each night after the freestyle sessions closed we would pack the dance floor at these two small clubs.  The atmosphere was electric and somehow we found space to have some fabulous dances.  I can’t help wonder when scenes like the one below might be repeated.

The Benidorm Jive dancers take over the Rock ‘n’ Roll Bar

Ibiza’s clubs close for 2020

It was with some interest then, that back on 15 June, I read a report about the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza) opening up again for tourists.  Forty-seven flights were bringing in eleven thousand Germans as a prequel to opening up the resorts to people from across Europe.  Ibiza is, of course, the night club capital of the Mediterranean.  I have always thought that when night clubs opened, with their packed dance floors, social dancing would not be far behind.

That dancing is probably the biggest loser in the new socially distanced world was brought home to me in an article about Ibiza.  Back in the ’60s and ’70s, Ibiza was a beautiful and cultured holiday destination, and I have wonderful memories of my honeymoon there.  By the ’90s the area around San Antonio Bay had become the centre of a new hedonistic drug-fuelled dance culture and the whole island lost much its cultured appeal.  On 23 June I came across an article that was headed as follows:

Ibiza may end up an even more appealing destination post-lockdown

It seems that the Balaeric government has announced that the island’s biggest clubs and other mid-size venues would stay closed for the 2020 season.  My heart sank.  One imagines that the season runs up to the end of October when the temperatures finally cool down.  In effect, they are writing off the remainder of the year.  The article went on to spell out more measures.  Only venues with a capacity to hold three hundred people or less will be allowed to open but they can only allow in a third of their pre-pandemic numbers.  The rules go on to state:

People must be seated inside and there can not be a dance floor.

No wonder the article was headed with a suggestion that the island would return to its relaxed vibe of the ’60s and ’70s.  I couldn’t help wonder if such draconian measures were being put in place on mainland Spain and the Costas in particular.  To find out I put a call into Maxine Goodie, who runs a Modern Jive club near Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca.

Scenes like this are a no-no for Ibiza in 2020

Maxine gives me the inside track

In April of last year, I had spent a wonderful week as the guest of Maxine on the Costa Blanca and was given a privileged insight into the ex-pat life based around her Paso a Paso Dance Club (see link below).  Maxine runs weekly Modern Jive classes and monthly Dinner Dances and Sunday afternoon Tea Dances.  During my week with Maxine, I got to experience all these events and was made to realise how important they were for the ex-pats to socialise with each other.

Maxine soon confirmed that there is no dancing allowed in mainland Spain, but under the guidance, she was able to run purely social functions as long as she promoted social distancing.  Maxine went on to tell me this:

I’m so pleased to be able to offer these events as my club members have suffered from social isolation during what was a very strict lockdown.

I asked Maxine if there would be any kind of dancing.  She added this:

We can’t be seen to be putting on a dance party, but if people want to have a little boogie around their table I think that’s OK.

Quite rightly, Maxine pointed out that she would only be happy to see people from the same household doing any partner dancing.  This it seems maybe the rule when we are allowed back onto the dance floor in The UK.   How that would work for a single person like myself I’m not sure, but it has been mooted that we might be allowed to bring one partner into a dance venue and dance with them exclusively all night.

I don’t doubt that this would have some appeal as a first night of dancing, but I can’t see it being sustainable.  For many of us, the appeal of a Ceroc or Modern Jive freestyle is the fact we get the opportunity to dance with lots of different partners.

It may be some time before social dancing returns to Maxine’s events.  Photo courtesy of Henny Groenendijk

When will dancing return to Spain?

As someone who runs a very popular dance club, Maxine is in touch with other dance organisers.  I asked her if she had any inkling about when dancing would return to Spain.  Just as in the UK, it would seem that dancing never gets a mention in the Spanish media but Maxine was able to give me some news.

Mass open-air events of up to four hundred people are being allowed, as long as social distancing is adhered to.  The same goes for private parties, as long as the venue allows in no more people than seventy per cent of it’s pre-lockdown numbers.  Sadly it is still official government policy that no dancing is allowed.  I asked Maxine if there was any hint that this policy might change soon.  Her reply was somewhat disheartening:

I’m afraid not, Paul.

Of course, the Costas are the location for several significant dance holidays this autumn including Benidorm Jive.  Having had such a fabulous time last year, I was looking forward to meeting up again with many of the people I met last time.  Even though it is still three months away, Wendy Brown, who runs it, tells me that it is still in limbo.

Hopefully, dancing will start to get a mention

In my June article, I coined the phrase The Human Spirit lives on hope.  Let’s hope that when I come to write my article in August, the number of infections in Europe and the UK have continued to decline and that the plight of dance organisations, dance teachers and of course dancers starts to get some media coverage.  Now that hairdressers and pubs are finally open the emphasis will switch to the possible opening of theatres, beauty salons and nail bars.  May be dancing will start to get a mention too and there might even be talk of lifting the need for social distancing sooner rather than later.  We can only hope.

Lena sends more hope from Sweden

Since my last article in June, the infection and Covid death rates have come down considerably in the UK, and I was beginning to allow myself the odd positive thought.  However, having learnt about the situation in the Balearic Islands and on the Costa Blanca I feel quite downbeat, but then I got more news from Sweden.

As I was putting the finishing touches to this article, Lena got in touch again to give me some positive news.    It seems that the rules have been relaxed in Sweden to allow dancing in airy open locations.  Lena tells me that there is a great Swedish tradition of dancing outside in the summer, and so over the past few weeks social Tango events have been popping up.  The events are small as only a maximum of fifty people can attend.

Lena explained that you have to pre-book and sign to say that you are well.   Also, people are only allowed to dance with their partner, but that hasn’t stopped Lena going twice this week.  She wrote this about her latest dance outing.

Tonight it was on a rooftop.  Very airy in the beautiful evening light.  Fantastic!

To see someone writing such poetic words about social dancing was just what I needed to lift my spirit.  Now before I make a joke about getting on the next plane to Stockholm, I must admit I never got on with Tango.  Pity, because the setting looks stunning.  But if I can’t tango to save my life, I know many Modern Jive dancers have successfully made the switch to Tango.  Sweden is the place then.

A chance to dance Tango overlooking Stockholm

Next time – Another look at Australia

Next time, I’ll take another look at Australia, where one of the blog readers, Neil, has been keeping me updated on Ceroc plans in Sydney.  I’m also hoping to get up to date to the minute news from Julie Gunn who runs Ceroc in Sydney.  Sadly as I put the finishing touches to this article there is news that there has been a significant spike of new cases in Melbourne in the neighbouring state of Victoria.  Dramatically the whole city has been put into a six week lockdown.

Fingers crossed the spike doesn’t spread into New South Wales and delay dance classes and freestyles starting up again in Sydney.

I’ll also be keeping my eye on Sweden.  I’ve been in touch with Nils and Bianca who run Swing and Lindy Hop classes and over there.  Hopefully they will be able to update me on what the prospects are like for social dancing as we head into autumn.

My thanks to Lena and Maxine

I’d like to extend my thanks to Lena and Maxine for their help with this article.  The picture of what is happening in other parts of Europe does, I think, have some bearing on what might happen here.  My thanks too to the many people, who left comments on the Facebook pages where I posted links to my last article.  The responses help me to get a feel for peoples’ own thoughts about when we might be allowed onto the dance floor again.

Other Articles in this Series

The view from June

Related Links

See how Ceroc is getting under way in New Zealand

My article on Benidorm Jive

My review of dancing on the Costa Blanca