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Quebec is relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, but dance floors remain empty

·4 min read

MONTREAL — For Montreal DJ Marc-André Patry, there's no point performing if people can't dance.

"I wouldn't go to the museum for an exhibition and look at a piece of art on the wall if it was 80 per cent covered. I feel the same thing with music, especially the music I play," he said in a recent interview.

For years, Patry has hosted a monthly event called Voyage Funktastique in nightclubs. The COVID-19 pandemic shut it down, but this summer Patry was able to move the party outside. With the weather getting cooler and Quebec's COVID-19 rules still prohibiting dancing in bars, Patry is planning to put away his turntables.

"If people can't dance to that music, then I'd rather not do anything," he said.

Quebec and British Columbia are the only two provinces that continue to ban dancing in bars and nightclubs as part of their COVID-19 regulations. As Quebec relaxes other pandemic restrictions, nightclub owners, DJs and people longing to dance say they don't understand why it remains banned.

Many, including the organizers of a protest scheduled to take place in Montreal on Saturday, say they support the efforts the province has taken to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, but they believe dancing can resume safely in venues where the province's vaccine passport is required.

Tommy Piscardeli, the owner of Montreal nightclub Stereo, said for him, it's about fairness. His venue — which does not serve alcohol and has a permit that allows it to stay open after Quebec's 3 a.m. closing time — has been shuttered since the beginning of the pandemic.

Adding to his frustration was seeingvideos of thousands of Ricky Martin fans dancing at a recent concert at Montreal's Bell Centre. He said it doesn't make sense that 17,000 people can be in an arena "screaming, dancing, shouting, singing," when he can't have 500 people in his club.

"They wouldn't be screaming, shouting, losing their minds," he said. "It'd be dancing."

Piscardeli said that without legal places to dance, people are now going to underground parties where vaccine passports and other public safety measures aren't being enforced. Allowing dancing would "bring people back to the venues that actually have all the protocols in place, that are going to check for vaccine passports, are going to do all the things they're asking us to do," he said.

Mathieu Grondin, the co-founder and general director of MTL 24/24, a non-profit organization that advocates for the city's nightlife sector, said he sees reopening dance floors as a "harm reduction" initiative, adding that venues that are flouting COVID-19 measures are also likely violating other health and safety rules.

"Montreal is one of the last few cities in the world where you still can't dance, and we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world for adults. Dance floors have reopened all across Europe, all across North America," he said, adding that 20 per cent of Montreal's tourists come for the city's nightlife.

The cultural impact goes beyond nightlife, said Laurianne Lalonde, who used to frequent salsa and samba clubs before the pandemic.

Lalonde, who started an online petition calling for the reopening of dance floors that has received 5,000 virtual signatures, said the venues she frequented attracted people from multiple generations. "It's not only about nightclubs, it's also about those communities, those people who share their identity, or their cultural identity through dance," she said.

The Health Department is taking a gradual approach to relaxing COVID-19 restrictions guided by case numbers, spokeswoman Marie-Louise Harvey wrote in an email. While she said the department is aware of the calls for dancing to be allowed, it's too soon to say when that might happen.

"Discussions are ongoing regarding the adjustment of different health measures. Announcements will be made in due course, depending on the epidemiological situation," she wrote.

Dr. André Veillette, an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, which is affiliated with Université de Montréal, said he thinks dancing should be one of the last activities to resume.

"Usually when people dance they breathe faster, they talk to the people around them, people are very close. They're not two metres apart, they're sometimes two centimetres apart," he said in a recent interview, adding that people may shout to be heard because the music is loud. He also worries about the ventilation in bars and nightclubs.

"It's got the right combination to cause a lot of trouble," he said.

Even with vaccine passports, Veillette thinks allowing dancing is too risky until the number of COVID-19 cases in Quebec drops significantly.

"I think we will get there, we just have to avoid going too fast," he said. "Every time we've tried to go a little bit faster, we got hurt."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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