Death of the dance floor? How nightclubs are being re-imagined amid COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus cases linked to B.C. bars and nightclubs cause concern'
Coronavirus cases linked to B.C. bars and nightclubs cause concern
Coronavirus cases linked to B.C. bars and nightclubs cause concern – Jul 8, 2020

There’s no such thing as time on the dance floor.

Your senses are on fire but your brain is shut off; escapism in the dark, lights pulsing, bass thumping.

It will be a long time before people can dance like no one’s watching. For nightclubs struggling amid COVID-19, it might be even longer.

Even as bars reopen in Canada — a hotly contested decision that’s garnered mixed reaction — nightclubs remain frozen. After all, how can you dance in close, confined quarters in a pandemic?

“As an industry, we’re just twisting in the wind,” Vancouver’s Celebrities Nightclub owner Nate Sabine told Global News Vancouver in May. It’s one of Canada’s many venues feeling the pinch.

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“We were the first closed and we’re going to be the last to open.”

Infectious disease experts are skeptical if nightclubs will be able to open at all before a vaccine, which could still be a year away. As such, the industry is making a concerted effort to reimagine themselves and their dancefloors to fit in the new pandemic world.

But dancing — a core part of any good nightclub — is still not allowed.

So can a nightclub ever really be a nightclub again?

Click to play video: 'B.C. bars and pubs face long COVID-19 closures, will they survive?'
B.C. bars and pubs face long COVID-19 closures, will they survive?

A group of entertainment industry experts believes there’s a way — and they want to prove it.

Morgan Deane, an expert in live events with more than 15 years of experience, put together an online guide to help “save nightlife.”

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The guide, called “A Light in the Night”, consolidates input from industry leaders and health advice to provide club owners with recommendations on how to safely reopen.

But it goes one step further, honing in on the unique environments nightclubs exist in.

“Right now we’re in danger of losing nightlife,” she said. “Is it going to look like your favourite nightclub? Probably not. But let’s get open and see what works and what doesn’t.”

The guide lays out the core recommendations now ubiquitous with the virus: mandatory mask-wearing, enhanced cleaning of spaces and high-touch areas, temperature checks and plexiglass partitions at bars.

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Layout changes are a main focus, since, “classically, nightlife experiences are about being tightly packed together,” the guide notes. This alone has made opening up nightclubs unfeasible to health experts and policymakers.

While outdoor spaces are the safest bet, if all a venue can offer is indoors, ventilation will be one of the most important safety requirements, according to Deane.

“Some operators might skip the HVAC thing because it feels like an infrastructure idea that might feel beyond them, or that it might be really expensive, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be,” she said. 

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“It can really be a matter of upgrading the filter you have in your system and replacing it more frequently.”

Click to play video: 'Toronto bar in hot water for lack of physical distancing'
Toronto bar in hot water for lack of physical distancing

The dance floor, the heart of a night club, is where things can get tricky. It will rely “almost entirely on regulations in your area and the layout of your venue,” the guide states.

Deane is confident there are solutions. She said physical distancing markers on the floor and rope fencing to separate seating from dancing can help. It’s something some European countries are already experimenting with.

Messaging, however, will be key, she said.

“You really have to explain to people that, this is it,” she said. “And if you’re not able to do this and follow these rules, then there’s no club at all.”

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Source: Covid Nightlife Guide. Source: Covid Nightlife Guide

But health experts are still skeptical.

“The music will always be loud. In order for people to talk to each other, they’re going to have to be close to each other’s ears,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Toronto.

“There’s no way that’s not going to be dangerous.”

For Dr. Isaac Bogoch, the guide “ticks off all the boxes for adhering to good public health policy,” but it doesn’t eliminate the risk entirely.

“Clearly, these are people who understand the nuances of the nightclub scene and have taken a harm reduction lens to it,” said Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital.

“But it’s going to be an issue of implementation.”

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Source: Covid Nightlife Guide. Source: Covid Nightlife Guide

Trial-and-error or impossible?
It’s been a global trial-and-error when it comes to reopening the economy. Bars and nightclubs, so far, haven’t had a good run. 

New cases have been tied to bars and clubs in both Montreal and Vancouver. In the United States, bars have been blamed for case upswings. There’s also South Korea’s now-notorious spike tied to nightclubs.

People also have to factor in alcohol consumption, Furness said. By nature, it skews your judgment so public health officers are warning people to remember that.

While compliance from clubgoers is a “fair concern,” Deane doesn’t totally buy that argument. 

The scene has adapted before, she said, and it can again. 

She pointed to the spate of drug-related deaths at music festivals in 2012. The industry changed its messaging in response, she said, taking a harm reduction approach that ultimately saw overdoses fall. Free hydration stations are now the norm at these events, which “didn’t exist prior,” she said.

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“That’s because the industry made a concerted effort to explain to people how to reduce harm and mitigate risk. … I think that’s something that can happen in nightlife currently.”

“Things need to change in order for us to operate. In order to take care of your scene, you have to follow the rules. And if you love it enough, you will.”

Click to play video: 'Second West Island pub reports COVID-19 outbreak'
Second West Island pub reports COVID-19 outbreak

The scene is in “pretty bad shape right now,” said Deane.

But letting it die is not an option.

“The average bar goer doesn’t think of nightlife as an ecosystem that contains people’s jobs and passions. … It’s a safe space for people of colour, for the LGBTQ community. It’s been that way since the 20s,” she said. 

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“It’s really important. It’s not just recreation.”

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