Dancing Ban Aimed at Young People Breaks the Rhythm of Many Older Italians

Dancing Ban Aimed at Young People Breaks the Rhythm of Many Older Italians

Dancing Ban Aimed at Young People Breaks the Rhythm of Many Older Italians

Dancing Ban Aimed at Young People Breaks the Rhythm of Many Older Italians

LEGNAGO, Italy — Raffaele Leardini, 72, slipped on his pink linen shirt, buttoned it up to the middle of his chest, combed back his hair and set off on Thursday with his wife to Caribe, their favorite outdoor dance hall. When they arrived, they found the club open but the dance floor sealed off with red and white tape.

“What is this?” asked Mr. Leardini, a retired mechanic. “They can’t do this.”

But they have. In an attempt to limit a resurgence of the coronavirus, Italy has banned dancing in nightclubs and outdoor dance halls.

As in other countries around the world, new cases in Italy are being driven by young people, with several clusters traced back to nightclubs crowded with maskless patrons. Yet the new rules aimed at stopping young people from gathering en masse have also swept up older Italians for whom an evening at the dance hall is a cherished part of life.

As lockdown measures were lifted, Caribe reopened in July — with many new and hard-to-enforce rules. Only married couples or “stable affections,” which had to be declared in writing, could dance together. Masks were required on the dance floor, as partners clasped sanitized hands after registering their names and having their temperatures taken.

If masks were lowered, the DJ would stop the music. But even with the restrictions, the dancing lasted only a little over a month.

The Italian government’s decree on dancing, issued on Aug. 16, made no distinction between packed, sweaty clubs blaring reggaeton and sedate community centers where people swirl in pairs to accordion-driven waltzes.

Many regulars at Caribe, which caters to an older clientele, said they understood that the government was trying to protect the country — and people their age in particular — but were frustrated that the ban included places that had been following the rules. A spokesman for the health minister said that any kind of dancing required a physical proximity that can spread infection.

The patrons didn’t understand why they could no longer hold their partners on the dance floor while bars, beaches, amateur soccer courts and gyms stayed open.

“It was good to close down nightclubs — teenagers just don’t get it,” said Mr. Leardini, who was so happy when the club reopened in July that he burst out crying when he heard the news. “But here you have people with a brain and a mask.”

Mr. Leardini had gone dancing at Caribe three times a week with his wife, Loretta Parini, for more than four decades. When forced to stop during the lockdown, he fell into depression. He said that he had gained weight and that every night he opened his closet and wondered whether he would ever again be able to wear his colorful collection of dancing shirts.

“What do I have — eight more years ahead?” he said, sipping a Corona beer from a wine glass. “They can’t take everything away from me.”

For now, he and others had to content themselves sitting on white couches on the edge of the dance floor, tapping their feet as the club’s singer, wearing a long, shiny pink dress, walked around the perimeter of the red tape, singing.

Grazia Maria Bellini, 66, was among those listening on a recent night. Since the club reopened, she had resumed her Friday appointments at the hairdresser and bought a long green dress with little roses on the trim. But before she had the chance to show it off, the dance floor was closed again.

Since the age of 11, she had worked at a polishing plant, spray-painting wood. When she retired and after her husband died, she gingerly tried the dance floor.

She didn’t know the steps of the Liscio, Italy’s traditional “smooth dance,” when she first went to a dance hall near her home in the northern town of Casaleone, but a more expert dancer took her hand — and told her she was “light as a feather.”

Four years later, he sat next to her in front of the taped-off dance floor.

“It’s because these youngsters were all amassed” that they had to stop dancing, Ms. Bellini said. “The thing is that we don’t have much else.”

The Liscio — which involves a combination of Viennese ballroom dances like the waltz, polka and mazurka — became Italy’s most popular dance craze in the 1970s, especially in the towns and villages along the Italian Riviera of the northern Emilia Romagna region.

While the cheerful songs extolling the virtues of family are largely eschewed by the young, they remain staples for many older Italians, especially in the nation’s northern lowlands. And in many communities, Liscio dance nights provide companionship and comfort.

Moreno Conficconi, a Liscio musician from Emilia-Romagna better known as “Moreno the Blonde,” said it was a mistake to conflate dance halls and nightclubs.

“There is no crowd in our music,” she said. “There are only intentional hugs.”

When Italy announced the ban on dancing, the government promised to pay millions in subsidies to the owners of nightclubs, but many local community centers that host dance nights do not qualify.

“They close us down as nightclubs, but then they don’t help us like they help nightclubs,” said Maria Pina Colarusso, a volunteer from the Arci community center in Soliera, a town near Modena.

She said that since many of the community centers survived only on the piadina flatbreads and soft drinks they sell on the Liscio nights, they would be forced to close. She has already had to cancel the bookings of hundreds of locals who had rushed to get a spot for their masked Liscio nights.

“They closed our dance floor, but outside it there are way more dangerous things still going on,” she said.

At the Caribe, everyone seemed to agree that Benito Garofalo, 80, was the best on the dance floor.

Mr. Garofalo lost his wife — whom he described as “not the most beautiful, but the best” — in December, and said dancing was the only thing that had helped him keep negative thoughts away.

“Now I don’t have dancing, and the bad thoughts are back,” he said.

In his perfectly ironed yellow shirt, Mr. Garofalo approached Cristina Danielis, 62, a recently retired obstetrician from nearby Mantua, who sat on a sofa in a flowery dress.

“Did they bring you drinks?” he asked. “I so wish I could ask you for a dance.”


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