We’ve Arrived Because We Stuck Together

This week I got an invite to attend a virtual conference about dancing.

I got an email from the organizers of a competition that I’ve gone to a couple of times in the past inviting me to join their discussion on the future of the competition. Since I have been to the event a couple of times, I was curious to hear what they were going to talk about, so I joined the conference as a silent participant – i.e. with my camera and microphone disabled so no one knew I was there. Well, sort-of… they could see a black box with my first name in it on the screen, but my first name is common enough that I don’t think it raised any eyebrows, allowing me to remain sneaky.

The discussion veered off in a few strange directions during its run. Shortly after starting it was clear that the people who joined the conference wanted to talk less about the specific competition the organizers run, and more about the future of competitions in general as the country starts to tentatively open back up. The host of the conference let this happen, and because the conversation jumped off the talking points originally proposed the conference lasted a lot longer than initially planned. Since I was just listening and could do other things at the same time, it didn’t really bother me too much how long it went on, but if I had been running a meeting like this for work it would have driven me crazy that people weren’t able to stay focused!

Also, I just want to point out that video conferences like this are a mixed bag. I’ve been through enough video conferences in my life, and while some are good, and the setup helps promote inclusion by letting you see all parties involved, if you aren’t careful about how you set things up it can become chaotic really fast. At this particular conference the host tried to un-mute all of the participants shortly after the conference started so that everyone could hear everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. The cacophony that ensued before the other participants started to voluntarily mute themselves when they weren’t talking was super irritating.

If you organize any video conferences in the future… don’t do this. Just don’t. As a favor to me.

The major talking point that wasn’t on the schedule but that the group spent a lot of time discussing was how to bring competitions back online. Some of the participants were gung-ho about just opening competitions back up. A few even said that they didn’t care about other dance events that weren’t either competitions or taking coaching with various high-level coaches. As long as competitions remained closed, they would only be taking private lessons with their own instructor and biding their time.

More people seemed to like the idea of easing back into competitions slowly by attending other dance events first so that they could get their legs back underneath them for a little while. The way they described it was kind of like getting a chance to warm up before doing a workout, which makes sense to me since everyone has been staying at home for so long. They wanted to look at doing monitored practices with coaches, or cheap competition-like events in front of judges where the scores wouldn’t count against their national rankings before they went to any real competitions where the results mattered.

There was one suggestion proposed by the organizer of this conference that all the dancers who wanted to go to non-competition events before going back to competitions seemed to really like. This suggestion made me shake my head. I almost thought about un-muting myself to say something, but I held my tongue since all of these people were adults and can make their own decisions about what the best way to get back into dancing is.

The organizer of this meeting proposed putting on a training camp as soon as things were allowed to open back up. They mentioned that they would look around to try and find a large venue so dancers could put some space between them, but no matter the location they would look at having hand sanitizer available for use and make sure that the facilities were cleaned frequently during the camp. Then they said they would require attendees to wear masks *except* when they were running practice rounds. The reasoning was that since these competitors would want to go full out when dancing in the practice rounds, they didn’t want to impede anyone’s ability to breathe by forcing them to wear a mask while doing so.

That was the part that made me wary. Look, I know that wearing masks has become a political issue for some reason, but all I could think about was… what if I was dancing rounds with all these people, many of whom would be breathing heavily, while we all danced around in the same circuit on the floor as we did Smooth or Standard rounds. If there is any sort of aerial suspension of the droplets that people exhale, there would be a good chance that I would be breathing all that in if I am dancing behind them, and the people behind me breathing mine in, and so on and so forth. All it would take would be one person, one of those mythical asymptomatic carriers let’s say, breathing heavily all over the floor as they danced rounds, and now you have potentially infected all the attendees at the camp who are dancing the rounds with them.

To make matters worse, many of the people I could see on this video conference probably fell into those age ranges where this virus going around is particularly dangerous, and they all seemed to WANT to be doing this. They aren’t like me. I’m still fairly young, and in great shape (not to pat myself on the back or anything). I mean, while everything was shut down I did choose to focus all my workouts on a combination of building muscle and flexibility. I’m up to 215lbs of solid muscle right now, and am almost to the point where I can grab onto my heels when I stretch my legs even with all this extra mass on my frame. Yay! But to get here over the last few months I had to completely drop all cardio, so my lungs are probably a bit weaker than they used to be. Even so, if I were to get this virus there’s a good chance that I would be totally fine… not that I really want to test that theory or anything.

But what about those older folks on this conference call that aren’t like me? What about other older dancers who would also want to go to an event like this if available? How would they fare if one younger person who was asymptomatic was dancing rounds with them and they caught it from that person? I think back to that article I wrote about a little while ago that talked about the dance community in another city that was devastated as a large number of their members contracted and ultimately died from this virus. Were the people on this conference call I was listening to really OK with that potentially happening?

I’ve heard the complaints. People miss dancing. I’ve heard of the petitions that various members of the dance community around me are signing to try and convince the government to allow dance studios to open back up for lessons and classes. I know that people are itching to get back out on the dance floor. But I really think that we as a wider dance community all over the world are going to have to have some serious discussions about this.

Because of the nature of the activity, ballroom dancing is risky right now. Because of the type of people that are involved in the ballroom communities, it could potentially be fatal. Are we really going to be OK with the risk of infections, or the potential deaths that could occur among members of the dance community worldwide, just to get back out on the dance floor for social dancing or competitions? Would you feel good if you found out in the future that you were one of those asymptomatic carriers and you went to a dance event where weeks later a bunch of people got sick?

I know that we all can’t stay at home forever, and that a lot of the dance professionals really need us all to get back out there so that they can make a living by sharing their skills. But I think that we are doing ourselves a disservice if we don’t come together and at least have some serious discussions with everyone who likes partner dancing about what things should look like going forward. Until there is some kind of treatment or vaccine, maybe the rules need to be changed. Can we accommodate people wearing masks during the whole event? Would you have to slow down the tempos for dances like Mambo or Viennese Waltz to do that? Do social dances start breaking the floor up into small squares so that people can’t dance near other couples? Is the no-touch dance lesson concept that I have been hearing about really worthwhile for teaching a skill like this?

Without a wide discussion, I guess we can only worry about what we as individuals are doing. So… how about you? Are you eager to get back out there? Will you only be happy if you can go back to competing, risks be damned? Or are you going to be cautious and stay away from large dance gatherings until such a time as things become safer? I hope your choice is the right one for you.

2 thoughts on “We’ve Arrived Because We Stuck Together

  1. Yes, I’m eager to get back. But until we get to a point where we aren’t seeing a significant number of new cases each day, I don’t see how you could pull off an event like a competition. And wearing masks all the time could open up other issues given that it can be hard to really breathe in one of those things (not to mention how gross it would be after a few heats). I just don’t see us getting back to “normal” comps anytime soon.

    1. Well, from the sound of things, at least some people in the conference I watched were definitely interested in starting competitions again, so at least a few of those people would sign up if someone wanted to try running one. Luckily it seems like most organizers in the country are postponing their events until at least late in the year. It will be interesting to see how things unfold going forward.

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