News from Canada

It’s Our 10th Anniversary!

Compiled by Bev Bernbaum and Rosemary Lach

Map of Canada with cities highlighted

The world turned upside down in March of 2020, and it’s been a very challenging time since then for dance, music, and song communities everywhere. For our tenth anniversary of great Canadian storytelling, we reached out coast to coast to check in with people. Here’s how some communities have been doing during the pandemic.

Halifax contra dancersHalifax Contra Dances, Halifax, NS. Photo by Alex Wright.

Halifax, NS

Halifax Contra Dances was full swing (pun intended!) going into our winter 2020 dance session when COVID hit and made for an abrupt cancellation of our monthly dances. We laid low for the rest of the winter-spring season, but after a summer of relatively low case counts, we held an outdoor, masked dance on the Halifax waterfront in September 2020 using modified dances. Live music was provided by our wonderful musicians, separated from the dancers with a generous buffer marked with pool noodles! It was great fun, and people really appreciated the flexibility to meet everyone’s levels of comfort. However, it was also a lot of work with pre-registration, contact tracing, a completely new venue, and totally different dances.

We resolved to take a break over the colder months and see how things with the pandemic progressed. We tentatively booked an outdoor dance for June 2021. Unfortunately, COVID cases mounted over the winter and spring, and we found ourselves in full lockdown as the June date

approached, so we cancelled it. We are hopeful we can resume some sort of dancing activity this fall, either outdoors or back at our regular indoor location. With the Delta variant on the horizon, however, it still seems too soon to be certain that things are “back to normal.”

—Kat Kitching, volunteer committee member and house caller, Halifax Contra Dances.

In Nova Scotia, Contra Time Dancers have mostly been staying home and healthy. Things are beginning to open up and we are hoping to be able to dance in the fall. There is some folk dancing on the Halifax waterfront, the musicians are practicing, I have been creating new contras with fewer swings, and the halls are asking about bookings.

—Dottie Welch, organizer and caller, Contra Time Dancers

Montreal, QC

Montreal had a few Zoom hangouts, two picnics last summer, and one Zoom concert in January, but right now not much is happening. We will need to rebuild the community. We intend to restart slowly at our smaller, less expensive hall using local bands and hope to eventually attract more people so we can go back to our bigger hall with visiting bands. However, with the rise of the Delta variant, I have no idea when that might be possible.

We stand at the ready waiting for conditions and rules to allow us to host indoor dances. We may organize a picnic before summer is out; these typically only draw six or seven people, but they are still one way to keep the community connected, so we're considering it.

—Marie, ContraMontreal

Dancers' hands form a starLord Grey’s English Country Dancing, Clarksburg, ON. Photo by Robert Burcher.

Clarksburg, ON

Lord Greys English Country Dance (LGECD) was launched in fall 2013, holding dances in the wonderful Marsh Street Centre in Clarksburg. Designed in the early 1920s as a community hall, it has fine wood floors and great acoustics. The dance season usually begins in September, dancing once or twice a month, then once a month through the winter months, with a successful ball at the end of each season. Sound equipment and a solid collection of CDSS CDs provide the music, as there are no local musicians available. We have a wonderful website with our history and lots of photos.

We have danced for seven seasons, but COVID and the closure of the hall stopped everything except for a small outdoor dance in September 2020. I’ve sent monthly emails to the dancers, usually highlighting three YouTube links to ECD dances we have done in the past or appropriate to the month, as a way of staying connected. A dance was proposed for August 22 in a wonderful large airy Apple Shed, but people seem to be hesitant. We have dates booked for September through December this year. Wish us well!

—Lorraine Sutton, caller, dancer, and organizer

Toronto, ON

Toronto English Country Dance Assembly (TECDA) was one of the first communities in North America to start dancing ECD on Zoom. TECDA has hosted online dances every Friday night since March 27, 2020. Dancers have logged in from many parts of Canada, the United States, UK, and Australia. Kudos to Cathy Campbell who called for 13 months straight! Walter Zagorski and Alan Rosenthal are now sharing the load as we continue into our 17th month. Alan also hosted his own York Regional ECD (YRECD) two to three times a month, which had a great UK following owing to the afternoon time slot. In July, TECDA cautiously started outdoor in-person ECD, masked and using pool noodles (for distancing), with Dave Berman happily resuming calling. Outdoor dancing is weather dependent, with many a rainy forecast making a suspense-filled day.

As COVID numbers are rising in Toronto, TECDA will be discussing whether to continue onwards into the fall with the Zoom dance. And when will it be safe to dance indoors? We had to postpone our annual weekend dances of 2020 and 2021 to two dances in May and October of 2022. We are looking forward to Joanna Reiner Wilkinson and Goldcrest and Brooke Friendly and Roguery with fingers crossed!

—Maxine Louie, dancer and organizer

Toronto had its first online contra dance in May 2020. As the dance grew, we realized that many communities didn’t have enough dancers wanting to dance virtually to warrant starting their own dance. So Drew Delaware spearheaded the effort to expand to create All Hands In (AHI), a virtual dance series for multiple dance communities. In September 2020, AHI united eight communities across North America. Our attendance during full lockdown was typically well above 100, but as the continent has begun opening up, attendance has waned; our July dance had fewer than 50 dancers. Most online dances are experiencing a similar drop, so we have begun conversations with some of the other major online contra dance series to consider consolidating resources while starting again this fall, perhaps taking turns keeping online dances going.

The TCD committee has begun discussions about when and how to resume in-person dancing, but given reports of infections even at some vaccinated-only social events, we doubt that will be possible before the new year. Stay safe out there!

—Becky Liddle, president, Toronto Contra Dance

Winnipeg, MB

Hello from Village Green Dancers in Winnipeg. We have fared quite well during COVID-19. We danced either outside or inside whenever public health orders allowed. The sets were six feet wide and there were six feet between dancers along the set. We wore masks and did not give hands. During the times we could not gather in person, we ran weekly Zoom dances. Some exciting transformations happened. New figures like ampersand, fan out, shuttle, roundabout, and curlicue were devised, much to our delight. Some of the new dances have become favorites and will remain in our repertoire even when COVID is a distant memory.

Our plan is to dance indoors beginning this fall. At this point, we are unsure exactly how... Expanded sets? Masks? Giving hands? The shape of the dancing will be determined by the restrictions in place and dancers’ comfort levels. However, we look forward to dancing this season and are hopeful that we will be able to enjoy our twice-delayed ball in April 2022.

—Elizabeth (Liz) Goossen, choreographer, composer, caller, dancer, and organizer and Sue Stanton, caller, organizer, dancer

Saskatoon, SK

Saskatoon, where a contra community was just getting going, has gone into a temporary hibernation… But we have every intention of starting up again once it’s safe.

—Liz James, organizer and caller

Edmonton, AB

Edmonton Contra Dance has a Facebook page and hosted a couple of events prior to COVID. A launch was being planned for September 2020 but sadly it couldn't happen. Consequently, the budding community group is in suspended animation. Meanwhile, there is a one-off Contra Day as part of the Edmonton Square and Round Dance Federation Convention. This fantastic group wants contra to be part of their annual Labor Day Convention, this year in Edmonton and next year in Lacombe.

—Lona Ani and Karen Talsma, contra enthusiasts

Kaslo, BC

We cancelled our March 2020 English country dance and have no plans to restart dancing until there have been three weeks of no new cases in BC. We are a small group in a village. We see and talk to one another regularly when we go shopping (one street), to the post office, or just out for a walk.

—David Cheatley, dance organizer and caller

Vancouver, BC

The Vancouver ECD group, like most others, has been dormant since March 2020, although a number of our members have participated in Zoom dancing out of Victoria, Toronto, Oakland, and Nashville, to list the most popular sites. Special thanks to Rosemary Lach and Cathy Campbell for keeping the Canadian scene active on a weekly basis.

We are tentatively planning a restart of in-person dancing in November and are very interested to compare notes with other groups regarding post-COVID protocols.

Additionally, our ECD Ball is scheduled for the weekend of April 9, 2022. This will feature the same wonderful caller, musicians and venue as originally planned for March 2020: Joanna Reiner Wilkinson and the Tricky Brits from Seattle, to be held at the Scottish Cultural Centre in South Vancouver. Something to really look forward to!

—Lindsay Bottomer, dancer and treasurer

Vancouver Country Dance has struck a committee to address safe opening after COVID, as organizers stay in touch online, mostly through email. Plans for a by-invitation outdoor summer dance are on hold, as BC feels the effects of the latest COVID wave. However, we feel ready, willing, and able to dance again when the time comes.

—Nelson Beavington, organizer, Vancouver Country Dance

Victoria, BC

When the pandemic changed everything last year, we didn’t stop English country dancing in Victoria. We scrambled to harness Zoom, testing the idea of dancing together-apart. This grew into our hosting weekly “zoom-dances” for dancers in British Columbia and neighboring states. Every Wednesday night we hung out, made new friends, and danced in our living rooms to music played by countless fantastic bands. In the summer we danced outside, then moved indoors as it got colder. Masked, we danced around distance markers to live music. We had endless sanitization rituals, and often bundled up against the howling wind. Along the way, we hosted two virtual balls and a virtual No-Hands-Across-the-Water event. We plan to continue dancing inside in the fall, all wearing masks.

And always, always, we dance to the tune called by our provincial Health Authority.

—Martha Burd, dance organizer and Rosemary Lach, caller and dance organizer, Victoria English Country Dance Society

Bev Bernbaum and Rosemary Lach began collecting Canadian stories about dance, music, and song in 2011 to create the “News from Canada” column. We hope you’ve enjoyed these stories as much as we have.

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