British Columbia

Dance instructor angry Fraser Health shut down adult classes in Burnaby

Shay Burnham says it makes no sense that her adult dance classes in Burnaby have been ordered by Fraser Health to stop while the same classes running in Maple Ridge and Surrey are allowed to continue.

Shay Burnham says her adult dance classes in Burnaby have been ordered to stop while others locations continue

Dance instructor Shay Burnham is pictured at her dance studio in Burnaby on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A Lower Mainland dance instructor is angry her adult dance classes in Burnaby have been shut down by Fraser Health over COVID-19 transmission concerns while the same classes running at two other locations within the same health authority are still proceeding. 

Shay Burnham, owner of MPWR Dance Training and Performance Group, runs adult dance classes at several studios in the Lower Mainland, including one in Maple Ridge and another in Surrey. Three weeks ago, she says a Fraser Health inspector ordered only her Burnaby classes to cease immediately, sight unseen.

"They didn't ask for my protocols, they didn't speak to me on the phone, they didn't come to view a class. They just told me that what I was doing was high intensity, when it's not," she said.

A letter sent to Burnham from a Fraser Health official said according to current provincial health orders, all adult dance classes are considered high intensity — in the same category as hot yoga, spin classes and boot camps — and therefore forbidden.

"Within the Gatherings and Events order, dance classes and dance fitness are clearly defined as 'group high intensity exercise.' Since dance is defined as 'group high intensity exercise,' the Order does not allow modification of the activity to be redefined as 'group low intensity exercise,'" reads the letter.

Burnham wonders why her Burnaby adult classes were shut down when similar classes run by other companies are still taking place.

She also claims if an inspector took the time to watch one of her adult dance classes, they would see it is not a high-intensity workout.

"I've been teaching for 18 years, so I'm very well versed in what is high intensity and what isn't. And we are very clearly low intensity," she said.

In an email, Fraser Health told CBC it has not authorized any business to operate adult dance classes within the region.

"High-intensity group exercise causes a sustained and accelerated rate of breathing and may involve close contact with other people. As a result, businesses, recreation centres and other organizations that organize or operate high-intensity group exercise must suspend these activities," said the statement.

The health authority said it only investigates dance studios not complying with health officer orders on a case-by-case basis when it receives complaints.

In what she calls a "catastrophic" past year, Burnham says losing the Burnaby classes constitutes another huge hit, and not just to her business. 

"Unfortunately, it not only affects me, it affects the students. Their class time was their escape from this world, a safe escape, and kept a lot of people going in a pretty dark time."


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