Dance studio

The vaccine passport is a “relief”, says the owner of a dance studio

Although some of Suzan Richards’ students are children too young to be vaccinated, their parents accompany them to the studio. Family lessons are also offered.

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When Suzan Richards decided to reopen her Overbrook dance studio from next week, the first thing customers wanted to know was how she would treat unvaccinated families.

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The question confused her.

“I never asked my students if they had been vaccinated,” said the dancer and choreographer who runs the Cultural Arts Studio, a company offering Afro-Caribbean dance classes for children and adults.

“I never asked for chicken pox or rubella or anything so I wasn’t ready to ask if they had the COVID-19 vaccine. But the calls I got from my parents made me say, “Oh, wow! It is their right to ask.

Richards said it was a relief to learn that Ontario had announced a vaccination passport for businesses like his. Although some of his students are children too young to be vaccinated, their parents accompany them to the studio. Family lessons are also offered.

“It’s a very difficult conversation to have with parents,” Richards said, “so in a way, I’m relieved because it takes the responsibility away from me for those difficult conversations.”

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Still, she wonders how the QR code system will be implemented when it comes into effect in October and whether there will be any additional costs associated with it. Richards has already spent thousands of dollars beefing up her computer system and WIFI to deliver virtual classes, and she’s stocked up on unscented hand sanitizer and special tape to prepare for in-person sessions.

Richards has been teaching dance for over 25 years but just moved to its location in the former Overbrook Public School in the summer of 2019. Since then the studio has been closed longer than it has been open because of the pandemic, she said.

At its peak, 250 students were enrolled in classes like Soul Line-Dancing and Family Coco Jamz. Now, Richards estimates she’s lost about 86% of her students during the pandemic. “It’s hard,” she said. “I feel like I’m starting from scratch.”

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Additionally, the uncertainty surrounding the passport system and the rapid spread of the Delta variant has her thinking about reopening next week. It’s a situation the single mother of two teenagers never thought she’d have to deal with.

“I just want to dance and create and give people the space to break free from the reality of this world for 60 minutes, and do it safely. I never thought I would be watching anything,” she said.

Further up the arts food chain in Ottawa, the National Arts Center welcomes the vaccine passport, as it is something that makes viewers feel more comfortable attending cultural events.

NAC spokesperson Annabelle Cloutier points to a recent study by Nanos Research showing that a growing number of growers believe that vaccinations are the #1 precaution that will get them back inside, more than the distancing, masks, ventilation or any other measure.

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Events at the NAC resume on September 10, beginning with a concert by the NAC Orchestra. Although the passport requirement does not begin until September 22, until then all public health guidelines will be followed, including a thorough screening process, distancing requirements and masks.

“This will continue until the vaccine passport becomes the norm on September 22,” Cloutier said.

She said people who had already purchased tickets for events on or after September 22 would receive an email reminding them of the passport requirement. If they are not fully vaccinated, their tickets will be refunded.

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