Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS                                Donna McDougall leads a line dancing workout in her Roncesvalles neighbourhood in Toronto, Wednesday.

Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Donna McDougall leads a line dancing workout in her Roncesvalles neighbourhood in Toronto, Wednesday.

Two-stepping together, at a distance: Line dancing takes off as COVID-19 pastime

Two-stepping together, at a distance: Line dancing takes off as COVID-19 pastime

On a sunny afternoon, a sleepy street in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood transforms into a sidewalk hoedown as Donna McDougall leads a crew of dancers through a country-western routine of shuffles, swivels and scuffs.

“Sometimes, I get fancy,” McDougall demonstrates for the class, her sneakers spinning across the pavement. “I do the odd twirls, but you don’t need to do that.”

Veteran boot-scooters and beginners alike are welcome to join McDougall’s daily one-hour line dancing sessions, so long as you can find a spot where you can weave back and forth while maintaining a two-metre distance from your neighbour.

Since COVID-19 has restricted gatherings and activities, some Canadians are taking up line dancing as a form of group fitness, which by tradition limits physical contact between participants.

“There’s a lot of people struggling with various things (like) isolation or loneliness,” McDougall, 65, said in an interview.

“And for that one hour a day, I know this is making them happy.”

McDougall, who has lived in the west-end neighbourhood for more than three decades, typically teaches line dancing class once a week at her local YMCA, but classes were cancelled in mid-March because of COVID-19 measures.

Over a virtual coffee chat, she and her neighbours discussed ways they could help older and isolated members of the community. Someone suggested McDougall take her line dancing classes outdoors, but the idea of synchronized sidewalk performances struck her as potentially “hokey.”

Eventually, she decided to give it a shot. She started sending out virtual invites in late March to a select group of friends and neighbours, enlisting her husband to act as “traffic cop” as she broke down basic moves from grapevines to K-steps.

Dancing with her back to the students so they could follow her footwork, McDougall said she was only faintly aware of the hullabaloo brewing behind her wide-brimmed cowboy hat.

“It’s like a little bit of a movement,” she said. “More people came out. Then cars would come by, they would honk. People would take my picture, presumably just to show people, ‘Look, there’s this crazy lady.’”

Demand grew to the point that she had to bump up her schedule from a couple of classes a week to hour-long sessions every afternoon, catering her choreography to suit people of all ages and abilities.

She ordered a high-powered speaker to ensure people down the block could follow along to the beat, mixing up her playlist with tunes ranging from the R&B-inflected “Cupid Shuffle” to a “Weird Al” Yankovic parody of country classic “Achy Breaky Heart.”

Neighbour Christine Jermyn said the classes have made a “huge difference” not only as a form of physical recreation, but social interaction as well.

“This is something to look forward to,” said Jermyn, a line dancing novice who hopes to keep up her routine after lockdown lifts.

“It helps to keep you in a better mindset.”

McDougall said she gets just as much out of the classes as her dancers, choking back emotion as she kvells about the progress they’ve made in a matter of weeks.

Even for the people who prefer to watch from their porch, she said the music, movement and merriment has helped restore a sense of vitality to the community.

“It almost makes me forget that we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”

The two-stepping fervour has also taken hold in Calgary, where even police have been swept up in the proud Western pastime.

The Calgary Police Service posted a video to their Facebook page last month that showed officers kicking up their heels with community members in a parking lot.

Sean Buckley looked forward to teaching line dancing lessons every Friday night at Ranchman’s Cookhouse and Dancehall, a must-visit on any cowgirl or cowboy’s tour of Calgary.

But since moving his classes online, Buckley said he’s been able to share the exuberance of line dancing with a whole new audience, and is even learning sign language to make his instructions accessible for people who are hard of hearing.

Buckley sees line dancing as a potent antidote to the languor and loneliness of lockdown.

You don’t need a partner to participate, or even an invitation to the dance floor, said Buckley. It’s a solo dance that’s performed in groups, so it naturally breaks down social barriers, even though dancers aren’t supposed to make physical contact.

“My dancing really fits that model of keeping together but apart,” said Buckley. “It keeps that sense of community.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2020.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta premier Jason Kenney, right and Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, provide details about Bill 13, the Alberta Senate Election Act., in Edmonton Alta, on Wednesday June 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Minister Doug Schweitzer talks on Enhanced COVID-19 Business Benefit

Provincial government rolling out new benefit this April to better help small businesses.

Alberta reported an additional 399 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, on 9,217 tests, for a test positivity rate of 4.3 per cent. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer down to 562 active COVID-19 cases

8 new COVID-19 deaths, 399 additional COVID-19 cases

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
City of Wetaskiwin COVID-19 deaths increase to five

New COVID-19 death in the City of Wetaskiwin despite decrease in active cases.

City of Red Deer has nearly doubled its active COVID-19 case count since Feb. 10 and has 75.6 per cent of the Central zone’s active cases. (File photo)
Another new high: Red Deer hits 574 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports 13 new COVID-19 deaths, 430 new cases

Maskwacis RCMP regular members, Community Tripartite Agreement (CTA) members and support staff proudly wore pink in support of Pink Shirt Day on Feb. 24, 2021. Supplied/ Maskwacis RCMP.
Maskwacis RCMP embraces Pink Shirt Day

Maskwacis RCMP engage in virtual presentations with schools on anti-bullying for Pink Shirt Day.

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

Sylvan Lake's Winter Village lured many visitors to the town this winter. The town has launched a new contest to attract a new business.
(Black Press file photo)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

Mike Ammeter (Photo by Rebecca Hadfield)
Sylvan Lake man elected chair of Canadian Canola Growers Association

Mike Ammeter is a local farmer located near the Town of Sylvan Lake

Students and staff at Gateway Christian School wore pink Wednesday in support of Pink Shirt Day, a worldwide anti-bullying initiative that was started in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Public Schools)
Students, central Alberta community celebrate Pink Shirt Day

Mayor of Sylvan Lake Sean McIntyre supports anti-bullying cause

Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker is expected to sentence Satnam Singh Sandhu on Friday. Red Deer Advocate file photo
Updated: Sylvan Lake man pleads guilty to manslaughter for strangling wife in 2019

Kulvinder Sandhu was strangled and died in hospital several days later

Sentencing delayed in the stabbing death of Samantha Sharpe, of Sunchild First Nation. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Central Alberta man not criminally responsible for killing his father in 2020: judge

Psychiatrist testified Nicholas Johnson was psychotic when he killed his father

The cover of “Hometown Asylum: A History and Memoir of Institutional Care.” (Submitted)
Ponoka-born author writes history of old mental hospital

“Hometown Asylum: A History and Memoir of Institutional Care” covers 1911 to 1971

Most Read