Saturday, June 15, 2024
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Dancin’ the fright away


WHEN Jordan Peterson is asked if he believes in God, his response is usually to say that he acts as if God exists. Before accusing him of dodging the question, recognise at least the challenge being thrown down: do you really believe what you say sufficiently to live your life accordingly?

So it is with Covid: do you believe in what you think about masks, vaccines, ivermectin, vitamin D enough to follow through with what that implies? The pressure from government, mainstream media, let alone family and friends, makes it difficult for all but the most steadfast to do what they say. I wrote in TCW in March that there’s virtually no chance of catching Covid outside and I’ve tried to act as if I believe this.

I’ve been social dancing since university: ballroom, Argentinian Tango and mostly over the last 20 years, salsa. I’ll spare you the obsessive details (unless you’re foolish enough to ask me) but Covid has filled my unassuming pastime with political ramifications and made it a test of character unimaginable before 2020.

With lockdown in late March 2020, the salsa clubs closed. Some dance teachers ran online classes; all well and good for zumba, pilates, hip hop etc, but if you can’t get your hands on a member of the opposite sex then social dancing is an oxymoron. The white noise of lockdown left dancers as frightened and bewildered as everyone else. However, we needed our fix. As the summer started and people went to parks and beaches without falling ill so dancers started to crack.

I broke my friends’ self-restraint in late June at an outdoor event for six (the socialising limit of the time if I correctly recall), by playing a devilish cha cha cha. ‘Right, Vlod’, said one, standing up, ‘I want a dance.’ And so we did, to the wonder of the others, who joined in, giggling like naughty children. Two weeks later and we were still all alive and healthy. Such experiences led one to ask the question, whom do I believe: the government and their advisers or my own eyes? A couple of other small gatherings over the summer answered that question beyond reasonable doubt.

A small group of salsa conspirators began meeting up weekly from late summer to dance outdoors. Since then we have been dancing at least once a week every week, through cold, wind, rain, tiers and lockdown. The police have been largely unproblematic. When spotting us, they have asked us to disperse and we have obliged (thus avoiding any fines or arrests) only to find another place where our scandalous hobby was less likely to come to their attention. Private security has been a bigger nuisance. Many supposedly public spaces are privately owned or operated, and CCTV guaranteed that some jobsworth eventually saw us and moved us on simply because they could. But there were too many open spaces for this to be an insuperable obstacle.

Despite about a dozen people dancing regularly with each other, no one in our group caught Covid. Our only precaution was to ask anyone suffering from cold, flu or Covid symptoms not to come until recovered. I took an antibody test in February, which was negative. Either we were extremely lucky or the risk of catching Covid outside is negligible. Of course it’s the latter, for reasons Bret Weinstein eloquently and brilliantly explains here (at about 1 hour, 14 minutes, though the rest of the interview is worth your time). Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, admitted to a parliamentary committee that there’s no evidence of outdoor transmission of Covid. Belatedly, at the end of March, the Government amended its Covid mantra – Hands, Face, Space – to add Fresh Air. Truly, one has to be an expert not to be able to notice the blindingly obvious.

My fellow salsa outlaws are an unlikely bunch of rebels: mostly between 25-65 years old, an over-representation of latinos, respectably suburban (we leave our dancing venues tidier than when we found them and are always polite to anyone in authority). Women have generally been keener to dance than men (my own sex’s lack of cojones has been shameful!) There were a variety of opinions on vaccination: one woman insisted on wearing a face mask when dancing and one man wore a face shield. Many who were bullish about meeting outdoors were very cautious indoors. But we came to dance, not to pass judgment on how others navigated their way through the fear of Covid.

The reaction of the public has covered the full range, from two doctors who went out their way to berate me to some who were happy to see other people enjoying themselves, or even took part. People walking by in the open air in their masks looked bewildered by what they saw; I looked at them and the feeling was mutual.

Since rules have been relaxed to allow groups of up to 30 outside, our numbers and range of dance venues has increased as there’s no need to be so discreet. And yet many of our pre-Covid dancing partners have not joined us. Some – particularly those working in the public sector – have been threatened with dismissal should they be caught breaking Covid restrictions. Others who railed against restrictions on social media made polite excuses when asked to join us. But when the authorities spend a year frightening the populace, it’s no surprise that people are not going to venture out even when allowed.

Dancing under the Covid radar has been nearly entirely positive. I’ve made more friends in the last year than probably any other, for there’s nothing like adversity to discover who your real friends are. In looking for suitable dancing venues, I’ve spent many days discovering delightful nooks and crannies in London that I never knew existed. I’ve also stumbled on several interesting facets of modern life that would make great material for TCW articles if only I didn’t spent so much time dancing.

I haven’t advertised my activities to all and sundry; it’s not felt seemly to provoke people who have been stressed by factors outside their control and publicity risked putting my dancing amigos in danger. But with the shackles semi-loosed, there’s no need to be so reticent. I’m looking forward to taking on anyone who wants to argue the toss. You think I should follow the law? As Lord Sumption has set out, there can be a moral justification for breaking the law. So here it is in a nutshell: my freedoms are God given, not government given, so if the government wishes to take them away it has to show justifiable reason for doing so. The Government has produced no evidence that Covid spreads outside and thus its removal of this civil liberty is an immoral act which no one should feel an ethical obligation to obey. Neither am I selfish, for that implies I’ve done something to hurt others, which I haven’t; indeed, my dance partners will tell you that the opposite is the case.

Yesterday was meant to be our ‘freedom day’ when the government gave us back that which it shouldn’t have taken away from us in the first place. Many made some sort of protest. But the most important thing you can do is to heed the advice of George Herbert: living well is the best revenge. Socialise with the insouciance of a world leader at a G7 summit or a Scottish football fan in London. Laugh in the face of those who tut or demand that you be afraid. I’d write a better ending to this article but I must dash: I hear the beat of the claves calling me.

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Vlod Barchuk
Vlod Barchuk
Vlod Barchuk is a former accountant, former Tory councillor and current chairman of Ealing Central and Acton Conservative Party Association.

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