Council gives Swing Farmington conditional approval

While it may seem impossible to imagine swing dancing in the age of COVID-19, Swing Farmington organizer Alexander Steward wants to try.

Steward spoke to Farmington city council members Monday about an event application covering the Thursday evening dances in the Walter Sundquist Farmington Pavilion and Riley Park. Ongoing since 2007, the events typically draw hundreds of teens and young adults – and challenge any reasonable definition of social distancing.

Steward said he decided to move forward so that Swing Farmington has the flexibility to start up as soon as Michigan’s stay-at-home order is lifted – or to pull the plug if it isn’t financially feasible to open the season.

“I like to feel it’s better to have a little bit of hope and hold out as long as we can,” he said. “I find it comforting… there’s something I might be able to look forward to this summer.”

Council members tabled the application during their last meeting, wanting more information from Steward. While he didn’t have concrete answers to questions about how dances could safely proceed, he said that he is looking for information about how to handle large events once they’re allowed.

Measures he has already considered include educating dancers about wearing masks, not attending if they’re not feeling well, only dancing with a partner if they live together, and having hand sanitizer on hand.

“We would figure out ways contact can possibly take place and then be very strict about washing hands after,” Steward said. “It might mean a lesser amount of people come ot the dances.”

“How would you enforce social distancing among a couple hundred or even 50 teenagers during a dance party?” council member Maria Taylor asked.

“I wouldn’t be hosting a dance if we couldn’t have some sort of proximity,” Steward replied. “Ultimately, it will depend on where the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is at, and where the governor is at with her executive orders.” 

Taylor asked City Manager David Murphy, who would have to approve opening the Swing Farmington outdoor season, if he could foresee the dances starting again.

”First, the governor has to rescind her orders,” Murphy said. “Until that happens, nothing is going to happen… I would ask Alexander to come with a plan and show us how he was going to do that, while staying six feet away… I really don’t know until I see it in front of me.” 

Taylor asked city attorney Beth Saarela what the city’s liability would be if someone attending the dance caught the COVID-19 virus. Saarela said that as long as the stay-at-home order was lifted, with no restrictions on social gatherings, the liability wouldn’t be any different from an accident happening during a dance. 

Council members unanimously approved the event application.

Taylor asked Murphy to notify council members at least a week before approving the dances. She and Mayor Pro-Tem Joe LaRussa also asked for a study session to discuss making COVID-related changes to the city’s events policy and the fate of Downtown Development Authority (DDA) events that have not yet been cancelled.