Social distancing and ballroom dancing don't go hand in hand but this hasn't stopped intrepid dancers in Italy from twirling their way through much of the coronavirus pandemic, albeit with precautions.
Couples at the New Dancing Days hall on the outskirts of Rome are preparing for the Italian championships in July, having been granted special permission to practise by the Italian government.
The exemption was justified as being in the national interest, a principle which has allowed federally recognised competitive athletes in Italy to train throughout the pandemic.
“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 multicoloured lights, couples wear masks during warm-ups but are allowed to remove them while performing traditional ballroom or Latin dances. Most dancers 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, measures that participants respect.
The Italian Dance Sport Federation said 34 athletes are allowed to train in a school the size of New Dancing Days, recognising that continuity in practice is necessary. There are 17 couples, aged nine to 76, who train up to five days a week.
From a viewing spot above the dance floor, Ms Serafini keeps an eye on her twirling students and shouts directions. If she sees something wrong, she’ll stop the music, go down to the dance floor and demonstrate the correct way to execute a step, pose or twirl.
“The school is my great pride. When I see them on the dance floor, it is like I am there,” she said.