As It Happens

N.L. seniors bust a move as they call for an end to COVID-19 dance ban

A group of retirement home residents are showing off their moves in a Footloose-style music video to convince the Newfoundland and Labrador government to let them dance together again.

Seniors in residential care homes told dancing is restricted, even in their double-vaccinated bubble

Residents of the Alderwood Retirement Centre in Witless Bay, N.L., shimmy and shake in a new YouTube video aimed at persuading the provincial government to loosen its COVID-19 dancing restrictions in care homes. (Brian Downton/YouTube)

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Residents of a retirement home in rural Newfoundland and Labrador say they should be allowed to dance together again now that they're all fully vaccinated. And to make their point, they're showing off their moves in a Footloose-style music video.

The video, released Friday, shows residents and staff at Alderwood Retirement Centre in Witless Bay, N.L., shimmying and shaking to Kenny Loggins's Footloose, the 1984 hit that served as the soundtrack to a movie of the same name about a U.S. town where dancing is illegal.

"We wanted to illustrate ... how joyful people are when they're dancing, how captivating it is, and how harmless and safe it is as well," Renee Houlihan, recreational director at Alderwood, told As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner.

"This generation of Newfoundlanders in particular, they grew up doing lancers and square dancing and the jig and the Newfoundland waltz. I mean, we have dances that originated in Newfoundland, and the music and the dance really is connected to their past."

The video comes after a long, gruelling and lonely 16 months for residents in care homes across the province and the country.

WATCH | Alderwood Retirement Centre presents Footloose: 

Alderwood received updated COVID-19 guidelines from the province last month, Houlihan said, and residents were delighted that several restrictions had loosened, allowing more visitors and outside excursions — so long as everyone abides by the current provincial health guidelines.

According to a June 28 notice from Eastern Health, the province's largest health authority, care home residents can now "interact for all activities, including dining, without the requirement to mask and physical distance," as long as everyone, including staff, are fully vaccinated.

However, the announcement notes, "dancing is only permitted at weddings."

"They just took umbrage to that," Houlihan said. "They'd waited 16 months with no dancing, and they love to dance."

Staff at Alderwood also joined in the fun. (Brian Downton/YouTube)

She said everyone at Alderwood is double-vaccinated, including staff.

"We are in one bubble. We're in a town of 2,000 people. Only about 30 to 35 people come to the dances, and they really just want to dance with each other. And they don't understand why, if not now, then when?" Houlihan said.

"What are we waiting for after 16 long months of keeping ourselves planted in the chairs?"

Eastern Health directed all questions to the provincial Department of Health. As It Happens has reached out to the provincial government for comment, but it did not respond as of deadline.

Renee Houlihan is recreational director at Alderwood Retirement Centre. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Before the pandemic, Houlihan said, Alderwood would host three dances a week.

"That would be their cardio in the way that I would go, you know, on a spin class. That's their physical outlet," she said.

"They're not going to take up, like, rock climbing or kayaking or downhill skiing. This is their medium of choice for expressing themselves, and it's crucial to their mental, physical and emotional health.

"We have residents who might be not feeling well and they don't come out for supper and then they hear ... Grey Foggy Day, the song, wafting into the room, and they get up like Lazarus and find themselves in the room moving and dancing and being joyous and happy."

While the video is a protest, Houlihan said nobody broke any pandemic rules to make it. The residents maintained a physical distance during the shoot, and Houlihan was fully masked behind the camera.

Whatever happens next, Houlihan said the seniors at Alderwood are proud of what they created. As of Tuesday, the video had been viewed more than 11,000 times, with an overwhelmingly positive response.

"To watch them all get involved in the political process was a beautiful thing to see," she said.

"No matter what happens, even if the government doesn't reflect and change the policy, they feel like they have actively taken part and have been in charge of their lives and their future. And it gives them a purpose."

Written by Sheena Goodyear and Keena Al-Wahaidi. Interview with Renee Houlihan produced by Niza Lyapa Nondo.

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