Footloose on P.E.I.? Music venues, musicians eager to see dancing ban lifted

·3 min read
Dancing in bars and nightclubs has not been permitted on P.E.I. in more than a year. (Shutterstock/Syda Productions - image credit)
Dancing in bars and nightclubs has not been permitted on P.E.I. in more than a year. (Shutterstock/Syda Productions - image credit)

Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea played five sold-out shows at the Trailside Music Hall in Charlottetown last week and not a single person got up to dance.

Not that they didn't want to. They were wiggling in their seats, clapping their hands and stomping their feet.

Some may have boogied a bit on their way to the bathroom.

But that was it.

Rose Marie Braden
Rose Marie Braden

While dancing at weddings and organized gatherings in cohorts of 100 is now allowed on P.E.I. under COVID-19 rules, busting a move in nightclubs is still a no no.

"Unfortunately it seems normal these days just because it's been awhile, but I think we're slowly getting there, we'd love to see it," said Trailside owner Pat Deighan.

We will revisit dancing at licensed premises such as bars and nightclubs as the percentage of eligible Islanders with two doses of vaccine approaches the target of 80 per cent. — Statement from Chief Public Health Office

"Really, people are itching to get back at it."

When that might happen is uncertain, however. The next key date in the province's Moving Forward Plan is Sept. 12, when physical distancing measures are expected to ease and limits lift on personal and organized gatherings.

"We will revisit dancing at licensed premises such as bars and nightclubs as the percentage of eligible Islanders with two doses of vaccine approaches the target of 80 per cent," the Chief Public Health Office said in a statement to CBC News.

Jeff Sinnott, who runs the popular dance bars Hunter's Ale House, The Factory and John Brown Richmond Street Grille among others, said with live music returning, customers have been asking if they can dance.

"Some people think that whenever the masks came off, dancing would start right away. It's almost assumed by some that dancing is allowed when it's still not."

Shane Ross/CBC
Shane Ross/CBC

The Factory, which turns into a nightclub in the evenings, has probably been hardest hit by the dancing ban, he said. Pre-pandemic, it would get 300 to 500 people on a weekend night, but only about 30 to 50 a night over the last 18 months or so.

He expects business will pick up again when the dancing ban is lifted.

"People want to get up and dance, even if they're sitting at a table."

Different experience for musicians

The popular local band Phase II is used to getting people up on the dance floor. Lead singer Gerry Hickey says it's been different playing to a sit down audience.

Nobody twists to The Twist, or cuts loose to Footloose.

"What they do, they bounce in their seats," he said. "Some of them tell you their seat moves a fair bit from the beginning of the song to the end, so they're certainly enjoying them, whether they're able to dance or not, but I'm sure the audience certainly misses dancing, that's for sure."

Shane Ross/CBC
Shane Ross/CBC

Marc Dolan, the manager of Peake's Quay, said he and his customers acknowledge and respect the no-dancing rule, but he's looking forward to the day when he doesn't have to tell people to sit down when they hear a song they like.

"It's not enjoyable but some days you've got to tell them to remember there's still COVID, there's still restrictions around so we have to try to abide by them."

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