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.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 24, 2020
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- In the beginning, the coronavirus seemed like it was primarily a respiratory illness — many patients had fever and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot. Those who seemed sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome — which caused their blood oxygen levels to plummet — and received supplemental oxygen. In severe cases, they were placed on ventilators to help them breathe. By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. (And some people don’t show many symptoms at all.) In April, the C.D.C. added to the list of early signs sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea and nausea, has also been observed. Another telltale sign of infection may be a sudden, profound diminution of one’s sense of smell and taste. Teenagers and young adults in some cases have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes — nicknamed “Covid toe” — but few other serious symptoms. More serious cases can lead to inflammation and organ damage, even without difficulty breathing. There have been cases of dangerous blood clots, strokes and brain impairments.
Why does standing six feet away from others help?
- The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using that measure, bases its recommendation of six feet on the idea that most large droplets that people expel when they cough or sneeze will fall to the ground within six feet. But six feet has never been a magic number that guarantees complete protection. Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study. It’s a rule of thumb: You should be safest standing six feet apart outside, especially when it’s windy. But keep a mask on at all times, even when you think you’re far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
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.”