AP PHOTOS: Italy ballroom dancers twirl through lockdown

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Young dancers, wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 train at the New Dancing Days school, in Rome, Wednesday March 24, 2021. While much of Italy is in coronavirus lockdown, with live music and theatrical performances barred, cinemas shuttered and many sporting activities limited, competitive ballroom dancing is alive and well here, albeit with precautions. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

ROME – Social distancing isn't usually part of the ballroom dancing lexicon. But in an industrial zone on the outskirts of Rome, couples of every age twirl and turn across the dance floor, even through a pandemic, just as ballroom dancers have done for decades around the world.

While much of Italy is in a coronavirus lockdown, with live music and theatrical performances barred, cinemas shuttered and many sporting activities limited, competitive ballroom dancing is alive and well here, albeit with precautions.

The couples at the New Dancing Days hall are preparing for the Italian Championships in Rimini in July and as such are allowed to keep practicing, given that the government considers their activity in the national interest. It’s the same allowance that has enabled other federally recognized competitive athletes to keep training in Italy even during the latest round of virus-related closures.

“Yes, we can do it. Here we can keep on dancing,” said Raffaella Serafini, the 45-year-old owner of New Dancing Days and a 35-year veteran of competitive ballroom dancing.

In the huge hall with mirrors on the walls and multi-colored lights, couples wear masks during warm-ups and pauses but are allowed to remove them while performing traditional ballroom or Latin dances. Most keep them on anyway.

“It’s something beautiful for us because we’re older, but we can still put ourselves in play,” said Franco Cauli, a 70-year-old dancer who along with his 74-year-old partner is training for a competition at the end of April.

He said he felt safe with the health protocols taken by the school and says participants rigorously respect them.

The Italian Dance Sport Federation has decreed that 34 athletes are allowed to train in a school the size of New Dancing Days, recognizing that continuity in practice is necessary. Currently there are 17 couples, aged nine to 76, who train up to five days a week.