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Dancing in the coronavirus pandemic: Students offered to 'dance alone', digital classes to avoid close contact

As the coronavirus pandemic brings tighter restrictions across New Zealand, there's one popular social activity at serious risk - dancing.

Aaron Gilmore's Phoenix Dance Studio (left) and Marie Raiend's Ucan2 Dance Studio are already feeling the pinch of the coronavirus. Source: Supplied

Ballroom and Latin American dancing has spiked in popularity since the release of Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing With The Stars, which first premiered in New Zealand on TVNZ in 2005.

But at its core, it's about being up-close-and-personal with another person - not something generally advised during a pandemic.

New Zealand's major international dance championship, the Kiwi Classic, has been postponed due to the new self-isolation restrictions and ban on gatherings of 500 or more people.

It would have brought in professional dancers and judges from around the world, with New Zealand's own dancers training hard in anticipation for the big event.

Now local dance studios are bringing in their own precautions to keep students from a range of ages safe and healthy.

On Auckland's North Shore, Ucan2 Dance Studio trains hundreds of dancers every week.

Classes range from high-end pros, training several hours a week, to social dancers who come once a week. 

Ucan2 Dance Studio, on Auckland's North Shore, has noticed a drop in students since the coronavirus outbreak began. Source: Supplied

As a precaution, students are now encouraged to dance alone instead of switching partners during the classes.

"There will be no 'change partner' dances for now. People who come with their own partners usually continue to dance together but there is no requirement for class members to dance together as it’s possible to practise steps, dancing alone, still getting mental and physical exercise," co-owner Marie Raiend told 1 NEWS.

They've already noticed a "considerable" drop in numbers.

"We have concern for the wellbeing of everyone [teachers and students] and are following sensible and safe guidelines," Ms Raiend says.

"It will definitely impact our business as it is ‘social’ and requires close contact."

There's hand sanitiser provided at the studio and dancers are asked to stay away if they're unwell or have been in contact with possible carriers.

"While we will try to keep the enjoyment available  to our members as long as we can, classes will cease as soon as we are advised to do so," Ms Raiend says.

'THE ARTS ARE IN A HAIRY PLACE'

Phoenix Dance Studio's Aaron Gilmore is now looking at the possibility of online dance classes - something he's been pursuing since last year. Source: Supplied

Aaron Gilmore won the second season of TVNZ's Dancing With The Stars NZ with Lorraine Downes in 2006. 

Now he runs Phoenix Dance Studios in Auckland, teaching dozens of students a week through private lessons, group classes with schoolchildren and a weekly dance fitness class.

Already he's seeing an impact from the coronavirus, with students less eager to attend group classes and wedding couples pulling the plug after having to postpone their big day.

"There are some dance schools here and overseas that have decided not to take any one-to-one students, so it's a tough world for everyone," he told 1 NEWS.

"The arts in general, and people associated with the arts and dances, are going to be in a hairy place. 

"Whether people aren't going to a concert, or a dance performance, or a lesson, that's going to be chipped away at lots of people's earnings and income, which is a nervous place for people to be in."

Mr Gilmore is now looking at the possibility of online dance classes - something he's been pursuing since last year.

"I do a dance fitness-based class, I'm in the process of recording one to put out to people just so they can have a bit of fun at home," he says.

"If you're going to be in isolation, you may as well have fun and still learn - even if it's a party for one."

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The Ministry of Health informed the public about eight new cases on March 18. Source: 1 NEWS

Like Ms Raiend, he's also encouraging his students to stay away if they feel unwell, especially the ones still in school.

"The young don't seem to be affected as much but they do have lots of loved ones who are older, so we do all need to take care," Mr Gilmore says.

Looking to the future, it's not known how long the pandemic will last or how wide-ranging its impact will be.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Ministry of Health both expect New Zealand will get more cases as time goes on, despite the precautions in place.

While people are urged to maintain a two-metre distance from each other, a community built on embracing one another will keep their fingers crossed for a swift recovery.