Will Your Decision to Go Couples’ Dancing Kill Someone’s Grandma? Considerations for Dancers Facing Covid-19 and Links to the Science

Dancers in salsa, swing, forró, bachata, tango, and other communities are all itching to get back to dancing, and wondering when it will be safe to go back. Here are some of the key points to consider, with links to sources.

We’re all passionate about dance and aching to get back on the dance floor. It’s just not the same, dancing in front of a mirror, or a webcam, as twirling with a salsa partner.

As governments around the world start to lessen (then increase, then equivocate about, etc.) their restrictions, some of us have the freedom to make decisions about whether or not to go dancing. But should we?

The following points are a global snapshot—info and situations vary over time and locale, and by quite a bit.

The Scientific Info Available Now About Covid-19 that Relates to Couples Dancing

Nobody likes getting lectured, and ultimately we all make our own decisions. But the decisions we make now can severely affect our health and the health of everyone in our communities.

So here are some points to consider when you decide whether to go dancing with partners: forró, tango, salsa, swing, rock, line dancing, kizomba, and the rest. The following info is gathered from authoritative, scientific health sources that are cited; I am certainly no authority myself. The published and updated dates are at the top of this article; things may change, new information is always coming out, and anything here could be outdated quite soon, or superceded by new information.

The benefit you get from going dancing is individual, the risks are community-wide.

  • Early on in South Korea, a severe outbreak was traced to dancing in enclosed spaces, and led to 112 people getting Coronavirus. (Source: CDC.) South Korea had particularly good contact tracing at the beginning, which helped to identify this cause of transmission, whereas most places can’t identify dancing specifically or any other one single cause.
  • The combination of breathing heavily (e.g., from talking, athletic activity) and people in close proximity is perfect for creating a cluster of new Covid-19 cases. (Summarized by Vox; CDC study.)
  • One study estimated that 44 percent of new infections were from people who were not yet showing symptoms of the virus. So dancing only when you’re feeling fine and with others who are feeling fine is not a solution. (Source: Nature)
  • What that means is that if you go dancing, you are not only taking risks for yourself. You’re risking the lives of everyone you come into contact with. That could mean your grandma. The parents of essential workers like the checkout clerk at the grocery store. The diabetic husband of your pharmacist. When we reduce the number of people who we are in close proximity with, we reduce the chances of getting the disease and then unknowingly passing it on to others. The benefit you get from going dancing is individual, the risks are community-wide.
  • Likewise, your personal decisions affect health workers. As epidemiologist Michael Osterholm puts it in this interview, your decision to risk getting the disease also risks the lives of the healthcare workers who will have to try to save your life at their own personal risk.
  • Also, as Osterholm also noted in that interview, outdoor events are much safer than indoor; the amount of time spent near others is important, as is ventilation. So a beach is far better than an indoor club. Dancers, though, tend to be in close contact for long periods no matter what and thus breathe lots of each other’s air.
  • Coronavirus is spread by breathing and talking near others (not just coughing or sneezing). Droplets can hang in the air for 8-14 minutes, and infectious viral particles called aerosols can float and drift in the air for up to three hours. (Source: Harvard Health Publishing.)
  • Most do know this already, but the Covid-19 virus is not “just” the flu. The death rate is not known exactly, but thought to be “substantially higher” than the flu. (Source: John Hopkins Medicine).
  • Being young or middle-aged and in good health means you have less of a chance of suffering serious effects if you get Covid-19, but still significant risks of death and permanent damage. In Brazil, for example, 15% of deaths have been people under 50. (Source: Washington Post.)
  • Social distancing guidelines vary among countries’ health experts, but are generally from one to two meters. (Source: BBC.) Dancers of salsa and swing are obviously closer than that, and moreover, breathing heavily. Tango, bachata, blues, and forró dancers are typically pressed right up against each other.
  • Masks are helpful but can give a false sense of security. As the WHO puts it: “A fabric mask alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection. Maintain a minimum physical distance of at least 1 metre from others, frequently clean your hands and continue to avoid touching your face and the mask.” (Source: WHO.)

Here’s a Picture of a Lung

For the less statistically oriented and the visual learners, here is a picture of a lung removed from an otherwise perfectly healthy woman in her 20s. Covid-19 destroyed both her lungs and left her unable to breathe, she was saved by the first double lung transplant (an option that will be available and applicable to very few people).

A lung from a 20-something showing the scarring and inflammation that left her completely unable to breathe. She received a lung transplant, but that procedure will obviously be very rare and suitable for few candidates.

Speculation About Going Dancing and Covid-19

Here are some further considerations, with no authoritative scientific backing.

  • Will the dancing even be very good, in an atmosphere of mutual paranoia? Although, on the other hand, does the naughtiness of going dancing with lots of people in the middle of a pandemic make it better?
  • Once Covid-19 is over and dancing starts back up, people might think you were kind of a jerk to go around spreading the virus. Will they still want to dance with you? Or alternately, maybe they’ll think you’re a reckless, fun, crazy person?
  • Your grandmother, who will then be dead and watching you from dancer heaven, might also think you were a bit of a jerk?
  • Obviously, there is wide variance in local situations and cases are increasing in some areas, decreasing in others. Until everyone is vaccinated or there is herd immunity, there will be some risk. At what point is the risk acceptable? So it’s worth in particular paying attention to epidemiologists expert in your own area and when they start to find it acceptable.
  • Since couples dancing is one of the more high-risk activities for transmission, couldn’t we wait and let things open up in other ways and see how that goes before jumping into dancing?

I can’t wait to get back to nights of sweaty dancing (samba rock, samba de gafieira, forró, kizomba, etc.) and concerts and the rest, myself. But my two cents are that for now, it’s worth waiting a bit longer.

1 Comment

  1. BALP Melanie

    A very interesting and well documented paper. Thank you!

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