Ballet classes are vital for our students - we need them to reopen

Sinead Murphy, Principal of Cork School of Dance and Artistic director of Cork Youth Ballet Company, says if gyms and sports can go ahead under Level 3 Covid restrictions, so should ballet
Ballet classes are vital for our students - we need them to reopen

WE have established an Irish Ballet Teachers association ( IBTA ) to represent the ballet teachers of Ireland. I am the Vice Chair of IBTA.

Under the Government guidelines on Covid-19 we have been excluded from teaching our ballet classes at Level 3 in the framework... we can only operate at Levels 1 and 2.

Our children and students have been severely impacted by this in so many ways.

After lengthy discussions with Sports Ireland, we have been told we do not fall under their jurisdiction. We equally do not have any guidance from the Department of Education as we are not recognised as educators.

Even though IBTA members are all qualified with world-renowned organisations and fall under the UK’s educational framework, the same does not apply in Ireland.

We need private ballet schools and youth ballet companies to be allowed to open and train under Level 3.

Ballet (and dance) teachers are arts educators and therefore cross the Deptartment of Arts, Department of Education and Department of Children & Youth Affairs.

Ballet schools provide the training and education needed from age 4 up to 18, at which point students can then avail of 3rd level educational courses meaning that they are feeder schools to those courses.

Several of our students have chosen to study dance at third level and higher education colleges in Ireland and overseas and they are now being denied the opportunity to train and study in the studio in advance of their auditions for entry in September, 2021. They need specialised teachers in their chosen genre of dance to help them succeed with their dance education. We provide this specialist training.

By nature, ballet classes are taught in a socially distant manner. Students are placed a minimum two metres from each other in class. So we are a non-contact physical activity.

We have operated using the pod system since August and the students in my school have a designated place within their pod for the school term to facilitate efficient contact tracing.

Sinead Murphy.
Sinead Murphy.

Ballet teachers have tailored their teaching practise in order to comply with all Covid-19 health and safety guidelines. Our classes are low intensity. The students don’t speak, they don’t shout, they wear masks in class if they are aged 12 and over, as do all the teachers.

We teach in an incredibly safe and controlled environment and have no Covid-19 cases associated with our sector, so we ask where is the evidence to keep us closed at Level 3 restrictions? We have all applied safe structures within our own individual spaces so there is no congregation outside the studio in advance of the classes.

In my own situation, I am a rental client of Firkin Crane in Cork and they have implemented the strictest of measures to ensure staff and student safety. One way systems, well-ventilated studios, strict hygiene measures and staggered class times. To quote a parent: “ I feel incredibly assured and confident knowing I am sending my child into such a safe, clean and controlled environment. “

Children can play contact sports at level 3, attend gymnastics training amongst other activities, but they are not permitted to attend an incredibly socially distant activity like ballet. Gyms are allowed to open at level 3 with 50 people indoors but a ballet class with 12 students is not permitted to take place.

We are not against the other activities being open, far from it, the children and young adults need outlets for their mental and physical wellbeing, but what about the children who do not play sport?

Many of our students do not play an outdoor sport. Their mental and physical well-being have been severely impacted by the level of restrictions placed on our sector.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that youth services and activities are vital for our children and young adults, why has our service been singled out and excluded from the mid-level of restrictions?

We were delighted that CMO, Dr Tony Holohan recently highlighted and understood the impact the restrictions are having on the young people of our country. Research has shown that young people have been the most impacted group in society.

We have medical evidence which highlights the positive impact ballet classes have on students physically and mentally. By remaining closed, we are creating issues with child and youth physical and mental health going forward. Experts have also said on numerous occasions that children are not responsible for the spread of the virus.

All children and young adults need to be treated equally in respect of their chosen extra-curricular activities.

Below is a quote from Micheál Martin, in May 2020, in response to an email I sent him: “It is undoubtedly the case that only those with first-hand experience within a sector can assess the implications of social distancing etc. on their trade.”

We are the experts in our field. We know how safe our classes are. We know how important classes are to so many of our young people. We provide a safe environment for them.

We are not seeking to open at Levels 4 or 5, we realise we must and will play our part in society’s effort to suppress the spread of the virus, and have already implemented all the necessary protocols within our schools. But to exclude us at level 3 seems unfair and unbalanced.

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