When can we dance together? Parsing through the guidelines as dance organizations seek to return to rehearsals and classes

As a dance service organization, it is our mission to support artists and help dancers, choreographers, studio owners, dance presenters and administrators do what they do best: create, teach and present the art form we love.

As the city, county and state have been working to develop guidelines for all businesses as to when and how to reopen, Claire Rice of Arts Alliance Illinois asked me to participate as the dance representative on a creative industries task force. This Art + Culture Working Team is focusing on specific recommendations to Mayor Lightfoot's office and other government officials regarding their efforts to reopen the economy, particularly surrounding public gatherings and events in the creative industries. These industries include performing arts, sports and religious organizations. 

With so much information and numerous resources available—and so much room for interpretation within those resources—See Chicago Dance has created the following document as a way to understand what the reopening guidelines mean as they specifically apply to Chicago’s dance community. See Chicago Dance has based this document on my interactions with the mayor’s office and the Art + Culture Working Team, information provided by the National Institutes of Health and CDC, as well as information compiled by Dance/USA and other national organizations serving dance and other creative industries.

 

Broadly speaking, some dance studios may be able to cautiously open in phase 3 of the reopening plan. Most performance venues will not open until phase 5, though smaller venues and alternative performance spaces could begin to see activity in phase 4, or even phase 3 for outdoor venues. It is important to understand that the City of Chicago may not follow the same guidelines or timeline as the rest of the county or state.

 

The decision to return to the studio depends on many factors, including the economic impact of opening compared to staying closed; the potential risk to staff, dancers and the community writ large; and the need to prepare for the eventual opening of traditional performance spaces. 

 

Here is the hard truth: the cost/benefit ratio of reopening dance spaces for classes or rehearsals is a high cost—in both monetary expense and potential exposure to the virus—to low benefit until we are well into phase 4 of reopening. Even with significantly reduced capacity and extensive cleaning protocols, physical activity indoors is not considered safe without extreme measures, including rigorous and consistent temperature checks, mask wearing, contact tracing, hygiene protocols and social distancing.

 

Below are some questions to ask as you weigh the decision to reopen dance spaces. These guidelines are summarized from Dance/USA’s Task Force on Dancer Health with specific considerations for Chicago’s dance studios and companies.

Note: The guidelines below primarily focus on the return to classes and rehearsalsThe city and state have created recommendations for health and fitness centers in Phase IV, beginning June 26, many of which apply to dance studios.

Another Note: This is a lot of information! Take your time, read it more than once, and check back as you continue to make decisions about reopening your facilities and organizations. We will update this document as new information becomes available.

Questions to Ask When Weighing Whether and How to Return to Dance Studios:

 

This guide aims to provide more information for dancers and companies as we work to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 and provide safe environments for dancers in the studio, as we know it today. As the situation is constantly changing, it is best to continue checking with state and local authorities. We will make every attempt to update this document as new information becomes available. 

 

How is the COVID-19 virus spread?

 

  • Droplet transmission in the air spreads the virus.
  • Coughing, sneezing, forceful expiration, singing or yelling produces larger droplets that can contain a higher virus concentration and spread farther.
  • Normal talking and breathing produce aerosol droplets that remain suspended in the air. The CDC currently says the virus can be spread in air droplets for approximately 15 minutes.
  • Droplet transmission on surfaces (e.g., touching the virus and then touching your face) also spreads the virus.

 

Can asymptomatic carriers spread the virus?

 

  • Anyone at any age can be an asymptomatic carrier. An asymptomatic carrier is a person who carries the virus, but does not show symptoms, including fever.
  • Without widespread testing, each person should treat themselves and anyone they meet as an asymptomatic carrier.
  • Allergy symptoms like coughing and sneezing can spread the virus further, even from asymptomatic carriers who are not experiencing COVID-specific symptoms.
  • While younger people do not, generally, have as great a risk of mortality, children with mild or no symptoms can still infect others. Some youth contract a rare but dangerous hyper-inflammatory condition that has been termed multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) disease, which appears to be related to COVID-19.

 

Should dancers and staff have COVID-19 antibody testing? Does a positive test mean a person is immune?

 

  • A COVID-19 antibody test is a blood test that can identify people who have been previously infected with the novel coronavirus. These antibodies generally arise one to three weeks after infection and are not used to diagnose current disease.
  • Currently, antibody testing is recommended only if a person thinks they have been exposed to COVID-19 and are asymptomatic, for those participating in studies and clinical trials or if a physician suggests it.
  • There are more than 120 antibody tests on the market, and many are not considered reliable. In other words, no one knows if a positive test truly means a person actually has antibodies against COVID-19 or if a negative test means a person does not have these antibodies.
  • It is not yet known if having antibodies to the virus can protect someone from getting infected with the virus again or how long that protection might last.
  • Regardless of test results as positive or negative for COVID-19 antibodies, people should still take preventative measures to protect themselves and others and assume they can get and spread the virus.
  • The CDC website has more information on this subject.

 

Should companies be screening dancers and staff?

 

  • The short answer is YES.
  • Screenings include taking daily temperature checks and reviewing any symptoms that could be attributed to COVID-19 (including cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, unusual headache, unexplained muscle and/or joint pain, chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of sense of smell, pink eye, signs of increased fatigue).
  • Dancers or staff with symptoms or fever should return home, report to their physicians and isolate themselves for 14 days.
  • All dancers and staff should also be self-monitoring their symptoms and self-quarantining as needed.
  • Anyone who lives with a person who’s tested positive should also self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Identifying the names of people who have tested positive is a violation of privacy laws.

 

How can dance companies try to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 during phase 3 and 4 reintegration?

 

  • People can return to the studio in phases following the recommendations of their local public health authorities. (More on that is available in Dance/USA’s Return to Dancing and Training Considerations Due to COVID-19 guide.)
  • Preventative measures include social distancing, limitations on gathering sizes, protective gear, hygiene, visual guidance and controlled workplace conditions.

 

Social Distancing Recommendations:

  • Remember that the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is strict social distancing.
  • Social distancing is hard to maintain in the dance environment due to partnering and choreography that positions dancers close together. Significant modifications may be required until phase 4 reintegration.
  • When considering a return to the studio for class and rehearsal, think about instances in which close contact or shared air is particularly common: enclosed and windowless dance studios, poorly ventilated settings, people’s homes, classrooms, dressing rooms, lobbies, etc.
  • Consider the fact that your company may not be a dancers' only source of employment. While it may be possible to practice social distancing in your rehearsals, ensure that the policies of dancers' other jobs are consistent with state and local guidelines on social distancing, public gathering and PPE.
  • If possible, ask dancers to drive to work and discourage use of ride share services and carpooling. Explain necessary precautions to dancers who bike or take public transit to work and schedule classes and rehearsals during non-peak times to avoid crowded buses and trains.
  • Use online, cash-free transactions.
  • Set staggered set times for entering spaces, including the front doors and narrow doorways and hallways.
  • Separate entrance and exit points and allow for at least 15 minutes between classes. 
  • Tape off sections of the floor/barre/registration areas to encourage social distancing and mark spaces for individual dance bags.
  • Lower the intensity of your activities. Higher breathing rates may necessitate more than six feet between dancers.
  • Alter choreography to avoid physical contact, close spacing, floor work and traveling across the floor.
  • Refrain from all tactile corrections and high-fives, etc.
  • Direct traffic using one-way passage through the building, if possible.
  • Discourage socialization after class and rehearsal.
  • Consider loosening dress code requirements to avoid changing between classes. Ask dancers to arrive with their dance clothes on and bring their bags into the studio. 
  • Children may have difficulty maintaining social distancing. Consider phasing in classes for very young children more slowly and/or opting for a parent/child format in which the parent assists in enforcing social distancing.

 

Gathering Size Requirements:

  • Dance classes and rehearsals are generally performed indoors. Exercising indoors can pose a greater risk of transmission than exercising outdoors for multiple reasons, including reduced air flow and increased breathing rates in enclosed or crowded spaces.
  • Sharing the same air for longer than 10 minutes increases the chances of exposure and infection.
  • Phase 3 allows for one-on-one personal training indoors, provided all precautions* are taken. For dance studios, it may be possible to integrate private lessons, as well as streaming and/or filming online classes in the studio with a camera operator.
  • Partner dancing, such as ballroom dance, could be done as a private lesson with two people who are cohabitating. According to the phase 3 guidelines, we advise that instructors not touch or partner their students, even in a one-on-one situation, and that contact is limited to people who have been sheltering in place together and are healthy.
  • In phase 3, groups of 10 may conduct physical fitness classes outside. 
  • In phase 4, groups of 10 may gather indoors for class and rehearsal, provided all other precautions* are met.
  • Pre-register for auditions and classes to ensure appropriate gathering size, and eliminate walk-up registrations.
  • Consider double casting pieces and choreographing for small casts like solos and duets (without partnering). Double casting also provides security, should someone get sick. 
  • Keep in mind that teachers, choreographers and staff are part of gathering sizes, as well as parents involved in children’s classes or waiting in the lobby.
  • If a door monitor is unrealistic for your organization, consider controlled entry by asking dancers to wait in their cars, assigning a time to enter or requiring them to call or text before approaching the building.

* Precautions include wearing masks and maintaining at least a six-foot distance between participants.

 

Protective Gear (PPE):

  • PPE is personal protective equipment and can include: face masks, eye shields, gloves and gowns to cover clothing.
  • Please note that PPE is a protective layer but does not guarantee protection against the virus and is not a substitute for the most important measures to prevent the spread of the virus: social distancing, frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your face.
  • Staff who are cleaning and sanitizing studios, restrooms and high-touch areas in public spaces should follow CDC guidelines for PPE when cleaning.
  • A person should consider their ability and willingness to avoid physical contact, including all partnering work, tactile corrections in class, touching the floor or barre with their hands, etc.
  • Non-healthcare providers should wear masks, but do not have to wear gloves, which give people a false sense of security. Touching items with gloves can transmit the virus just as easily as bare hands. Gloves are not recommended by the CDC or WHO at this time. The best practice is to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and/or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Washing hands is recommended before and after entering the studio.

A few notes on masks:

  • Masks should fit snugly over the nose and mouth, not be touched once placed on the face and washed or discarded immediately after each use.
  • A mask will make it harder to breathe during exercise, and dancers should self-monitor for symptoms of lightheadedness, dizziness, numbness or tingling and shortness of breath.
  • If a dancer starts to feel dizzy, imbalanced or over-fatigued, they should stop the activity and rest.
  • Instructors should monitor the intensity of classes and rehearsals as dancers adjust to wearing masks during exercise. They will adapt and breathe easier after a few weeks.
  • Dancers should not touch or remove masks during class or rehearsal. If a dancer needs to remove their mask, they should dispose of single-use masks in the trash or place a reusable mask into its own sealable bag, wash their hands and replace the discarded mask with a clean one.
  • Dancers may require multiple masks to get through the day.
  • If a mask becomes saturated with moisture from breathing or sweat, the dancer should change into a dry mask. A wet mask is less efficient at filtering bacteria and viruses.
  • All reusable masks should be cleaned, ideally in a washer, with hot water and soap and dried in a dryer prior to next use. Ironing on the highest setting can also disinfect after washing and drying.

 

Hygiene Recommendations:

  • It is best to practice proper hand hygiene when touching public surfaces: frequent hand washing and/or the use of a minimal 60% ethyl alcohol- or 70% isopropyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer, letting it dry for 30 seconds.
  • Instructors should plan for frequent disinfecting procedures as recommended by the CDC. For dancers, this includes cleaning studios and common spaces between each class and rehearsal, with cleaning staff wearing appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Most vinyl dance flooring cannot be cleaned with bleach solutions. Ammonia-based or pH neutral cleaners that are generally used for floor cleaning do not disinfect properly for COVID-19.
  • It is recommended that floors should be cleaned as usual once a day, followed by a cleaning with this solution. Disinfecting the floors with this alcohol solution should ideally happen prior to every class or rehearsal.
  • Shoes can be a potential transmitter of disease. Street shoes should be removed prior to entering any studios, and dance shoes should not be worn outside the studio.
  • Additional minimum 60% ethyl alcohol-based or 70% isopropyl-alcohol based hand sanitizer needs to be available for use when entering any room or after interacting with any high-touch surfaces.

 

Visual Guidance Recommendations:

  • Create direct, clear, concise signage encouraging strict social distancing and flow of traffic through a facility.
  • Consider your community and whether this signage needs to incorporate pictorial representations and/or multilingual versions.
  • Contact See Chicago Dance, which is creating industry-specific signs to download.

 

Workplace Conditions Recommendations:

  • Consider providing separate bathroom and changing facilities for staff and faculty, to avoid interaction with public spaces.

  • Ensure frequency of cleaning in family restrooms and non-binary restrooms, in addition to gender-specific changing rooms and restrooms.

  • Consider pay structure. Some companies are hourly (i.e., you don’t work, you don’t get paid). Switching to salary may make it less tempting for dancers to work when they are sick.

  • Create a space for dancers to place their bags so that social distancing can be maintained among belongings. These areas need to be cleaned after each dancer removes their bag.

  • Monitor areas where people can congregate. Ensure enough room for social distancing and appropriate and frequent sanitizing measures in dressing rooms and restrooms.

  • We are consulting with Lawyers for the Creative Arts surrounding questions on liability, conflict resolution, etc.

 

What happens if we discover a case of COVID-19 in our community once we reopen, at any phase of reintegration?

 

  • Dancers or staff who become ill while at work need to be isolated immediately and should seek advice and care from their healthcare provider.
  • The studio and all surfaces with which the individual had contact should be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly.
  • Dancers and staff who live with someone who has COVID-19 should notify their supervisors and quarantine for 14 days after last exposure, following CDC guidelines.
  • Managers should be aware of dancers’ other contacts. In a company of five healthy people, dancers could be dancing for other companies and/or working at coffee shops, bars and grocery stores. Even with the strictest measures in place, it is nearly impossible to completely control the movement of dancers and staff.

 

If a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in your facility or community:

 

  • Both the studios and the company need to halt operations for five days for proper cleaning. This includes 90+ alcohol in a sprayer, spread by a mop to distribute the solution. The mop pad should be washed with bleach in the washing machine between uses.
  • Studio managers should wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for further exposure during cleaning. They should ventilate the area if possible, and follow CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Public health authorities may engage in contact tracing, which occurs through the physician’s office. To protect patient privacy, contacts are only informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection. They are not told the identity of the patient who may have exposed them per the CDC.
  • Everything is changing day-to-day. It is important to stay up to date with current guidelines from the CDC, WHO and public health authorities and local government.

 

--

 

If you have questions or concerns regarding the decision to reopen studios for classes and rehearsals, I will be offering “office hours” on June 5 and 12, 2-3 p.m. See the event page below for a Zoom link to join the call. If you need to make a private appointment, please email surinder@seechicagodance.com.

 

Information provided by the Dance/USA Task Force on Dancer Health was created by Heather Southwick, PT, MSPT; Selina Shah, MD, FACP, FAMSSM; Kathleen Bower, PT, DPT; and Kathleen Davenport, MD (2020).

 

Emily Loar and Lauren Warnecke contributed