Quebec sports bailout left out go-to activities for many girls, including dance

Thursday, Quebec’s government announced $70 million in funding to keep sports federations alive through COVID-19—especially hockey, but also soccer, football and many other sports.

There was money to promote outdoor sports and money for student sports. There was even $1.3 million set aside to encourage women and girls’ participation in sports.

So two groups of Quebecers are questioning why they missed out on the COVID-19 financial lifeline—especially since they provide the chosen physical activity of many women and girls.

Dance and yoga studios, and the associations that represent them, got nothing in the package.

Both are considered a cultural activity by the province, they say, rather than falling under the purview of the sports and recreation department.

'DOESN'T SEEM FAIR'

“One day we’re a sport, one day we’re a cultural and leisure activity, the next day we’re back to a sport. And as of yesterday, we’re not a sport!”” said Sharon Weiner of the Hudson Dance School on Friday.

“Five hundred dance schools in Quebec aren’t getting any money, but minor hockey league in Quebec—20 teams at a million dollars each. Doesn’t seem fair. Doesn’t seem right.” 

The bailout included a big budget item specifically for Quebec’s Major Junior Hockey League, which does add up to $1 million per team.

A spokesperson for the Federation Francophone de Yoga, which is an international organization but also functions as an association for Quebec yoga studios, said yoga, too, is considered a cultural activity by the province.

Quebec’s Dance Education Network represents nearly a hundred dance schools with a combined 30,000 students.

The network itself isn’t getting any funding, says director Veronique Clement. 

“We are stuck between three ministers and what we ask is some place that we can get financial help,” she said. “Schools really, really need help.”

DANCE STUDIOS FINANCIALLY SINKING

COVID-19 has been very tough on dance studios. Like gyms, they were closed for months and reopened with strict rules.

Hands were sanitized, masks were worn and boxes were taped on the floor inside the studio to keep students apart. Then, in red zones, dance studios were closed again.

“I feel bad for all of us,” said Weiner. 

“Not just dance studios. I have friends that run a yoga studio. I have friends who teach Zumba and we’re all in the same predicament. We’re stuck in limbo and it’s so unfair.” 

In Thursday’s announcement, Minister Isabelle Charest, who is responsible for sports and recreation, said the $70 million wouldn’t go to small businesses such as individual gyms. Those would be helped by the ministry of the economy, she said.

But those at the Dance Education Network say dance studios, most of them small businesses rather than bigger nonprofits, have fallen between the cracks of the ministries of culture, sports and economy.

When asked for comment on dance studios, the education ministry referred CTV News to the ministry of the economy. That ministry didn’t respond to requests. 

'THE KIDS ARE CRYING'

Thinking Quebec's dance network is more disposable than sports networks would be a mistake, say those who work in it. Students' response to losing their activity, even for a few months, shows it.

Many dance teachers in Quebec have tried to work through the COVID-19 closures by doing online classes, Clement. 

“Teachers are doing Zoom with their students, and the kids are crying,” she said. “They’re in distress.”

Minister Charest said the province was prioritizing physical activity since it knows how important it is for mental health, as well as physical. Clement said that’s exactly the case—the dance students’ mental health is suffering from being cut off from studios, teachers and peers.

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