Dance, yoga, gymnastics owners irked by temporary closures, saying operations already safe

Business owners who operate dance studios, gymnastics clubs and yoga classes say they were blindsided by restrictions that forced them to shut down temporarily, and are anxiously awaiting guidance on when they can safely reopen.

Some Island studio owners say they had already made masks mandatory and had not seen any COVID exposure in their classes.

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Manager Taylor Green said both of Victoria Gymnastics’ locations, in downtown Victoria and Colwood, shut their doors to students at noon on Tuesday.

“We were doing everything we possibly could to stay open. I was just surprised that we were included [in the latest restrictions], considering what we’re doing,” Green said.

“The kids were really disappointed when they learned we were forced to shut down. They’re just waiting in limbo until we can come back.”

Since reopening in August, the gymnastics club has required masks for all students over five. That was extended last week to include children older than two.

Several other measures were also put in place, including smaller class sizes, physical distancing during classes and temperature checks beforehand.

On Monday, the Health Ministry called for the temporary suspension of indoor group physical activities — including gymnastics, dance studios, martial arts, yoga, pilates, strength and conditioning, and cheerleading — while new guidelines are being developed.

Kim Breiland, artistic director of Stages Performing Arts School, said the dance community is “reeling.” Breiland said many dancers were preparing for their ballet exams, which are now on hold, and some Grade 11 and 12 students were training for admissions to fine arts colleges and universities.

“It is my hope that [the provincial health officer] understands the mental health and the physical training and the sense of normalcy that we’re trying to bring to these students,” said Breiland, who is a board member of B.C. Dance Educators, which represents dance studios across the province.

“The kids need the sense of community.”’

Breiland was disappointed to see dance studios and other indoor group activities added to the list of suspended activities late Monday with no clarity on when the new guidance will be made public.

“It blindsided the [performing arts] industry and the industry on a whole is suffering,” she said. “There is so much contradictory information out there.”

She said all dancers and instructors at Stages have worn masks since in-studio classes resumed in June.

Breiland hired a greeter to do temperature and symptom checks, instituted a one-way system for people coming and going, put physical-distancing stickers on the floor and revised choreography to prevent dancers from coming too close to one other.

“It was just crushing when we’ve done everything and beyond that was required,” Breiland said.

Deborah Carruthers, who owns Harmony Yoga Center in Duncan, said she’s worried about the mental well-being of her students, who have told her the yoga class is a lifeline.

“What yoga does, it calms the nervous system, and right now we’re living in a collective trauma,” she said.

“No matter what’s going on in your day, you always feel better after you leave a yoga class. People with anxiety and depression need that connection.”

Carruthers said it has taken months to rebuild people’s confidence following provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s comment in the spring that she wouldn’t attend a yoga class unless it was outdoors.

“I’d like to see how many exposures are in yoga studios,” she said, noting masks have been mandatory for everyone in her studio since Nov. 16.

The Ministry of Health said in a statement the order is needed to ensure there is no repeat of an outbreak this month that saw 38 people from a dance academy in the Fraser Health region test positive for COVID-19. Exposures at 13 schools were linked to the outbreak.

The ministry said while spin classes, hot yoga and high- intensity interval training are suspended indefinitely, all other indoor group fitness activities are only on pause until new guidance is in place to ensure safe operation.

Once the guidance is ready, facilities must update their safety plans and post them publicly before activities can resume.

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