LEGNAGO, Italy – Raffaele Leardini, 72, put on his pink linen shirt, buttoned it to the middle of the chest, combed his hair back and left with his wife on Thursday for Caribe, their gym favorite outdoor dance. When they arrived they found the club open but the dance floor tied up with red and white ribbon.

“What is that?” asked Mr. Leardini, a retired mechanic. “They can’t do this.”

But they have. To try to limit a coronavirus resurgence, Italy has banned dancing in nightclubs and open-air dance halls.

As in other countries around the world, new cases in Italy are being sparked by young people, with several clusters tracing back to nightclubs crowded with maskless patrons. Yet new rules aimed at preventing young people from congregating in droves have also swept away older Italians for whom a night out is part of life.

While the lockdown measures were lifted, Caribe reopened in July – with many new and difficult rules to enforce. Only married couples or “stable affections”, which had to be declared in writing, could dance together. Masks were required on the dance floor, as partners joined sanitized hands after recording their names and taking their temperatures.

If the masks were down, the DJ would stop the music. But even with the restrictions, the dance only lasted a little over a month.

The Italian government’s dance decree, released on August 16, made no distinction between crowded, sweaty clubs screaming reggaeton and quiet community centers where people whirl in pairs on accordion waltzes.

Many regulars at Caribe, which caters to an older clientele, said they understood the government was trying to protect the country – and people their age in particular – but were frustrated that the ban included places who followed the rules. A spokesperson for the health minister said any type of dancing requires physical proximity that can spread infection.

Customers could not understand why they could no longer hold their partners on the dance floor while bars, beaches, amateur soccer fields and gymnasiums remained open.

“It was good to shut down the nightclubs – the teenagers just don’t get it,” said Leardini, who was so happy when the club reopened in July that he burst into tears upon hearing the news. “But here you have people with brains and masks.”

Mr. Leardini had been dancing at the Caribe three times a week with his wife, Loretta Parini, for more than four decades. When forced to stop during confinement, he fell into depression. He said he had put on weight and every night he opened his closet and wondered if he could wear his colorful collection of dance shirts again.

“What am I – eight more years old?” He said, sipping Corona beer from a wine glass. “They can’t take everything from me.

For now, he and others had to content themselves with sitting on white sofas by the edge of the dance floor, stamping their feet as the club singer, in a long, shiny pink dress, did the singing red band tour.

Grazia Maria Bellini, 66, was among the listeners on a recent night. Since the club reopened, she had resumed her Friday appointments at the hairdresser and bought a long green dress with little roses on the border. But before she had a chance to show it off, the dance floor was closed again.

Since the age of 11, she worked in a polishing factory, spray painting on wood. When she retired and after the death of her husband, she carefully tried out the dance floor.

She was unfamiliar with the steps of Liscio, the traditional Italian ‘soft dance’ when she first visited a dance hall near her home in the northern town of Casaleone, but a more expert dancer took her hand – and told her she was “light as a feather.”

Four years later, he sat down next to her in front of the taped dance floor.

“It was because these young people were all crowded together” that they had to stop dancing, says Bellini. “The point is, we don’t have much else. “

Liscio – which involves a combination of Viennese ballroom dances like waltz, polka, and mazurka – became Italy’s most popular dance in the 1970s, especially in towns and villages on the northern Italian Riviera. from Emilia Romagna. region.

While cheerful songs extolling the virtues of family are largely shunned by young people, they remain a staple for many older Italians, especially in the northern lowlands of the country. And in many communities, Liscio dance nights offer camaraderie and solace.

Moreno Conficconi, a Liscio musician from Emilia Romagna better known as ‘Moreno the Blonde’, said it was a mistake to confuse dance halls with nightclubs.

“There is no crowd in our music,” she said. “There are only intentional hugs.”

When Italy announced the dance ban, the government promised to give millions in grants to nightclub owners, but many local community centers that host dance parties are not eligible.

“They close us down as nightclubs, but then they don’t help us like they help nightclubs,” said Maria Pina Colarusso, a volunteer at the Arci community center in Soliera, a town near Modena.

She said that as many community centers survived only on the piadina flatbreads and soft drinks they sold on Liscio nights, they would be forced to close. She has already had to cancel the reservations of hundreds of locals who had rushed to get a place for their masked Liscio parties.

“They closed our dance floor, but outside there are still much more dangerous things going on,” she said.

At the Caribe, everyone seemed to agree that 80-year-old Benito Garofalo was the best on the dance floor.

Mr Garofalo lost his wife – whom he described as “not the prettiest, but the best” – in December, and said dancing was the only thing that had helped him ward off negative thoughts.

“Now I have no more dancing and the bad thoughts are back,” he said.

In his perfectly ironed yellow shirt, Mr Garofalo approached Cristina Danielis, 62, a recently retired obstetrician from the nearby city of Mantua, sitting on a sofa in a flowery dress.

“Did they bring you any drinks?” ” He asked. “I wish I could invite you to dance. “

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