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Uruguay starts to dance again as pandemic subsides

August 25, 2021 GMT
People dance during a "Night of Nostalgia" event at La Quinta de Arteaga salon on the outskirts of Montevideo, Uruguay, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to Uruguay's massive vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and the decrease in hospitalizations, the country is reopening the party and event sector, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)
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People dance during a "Night of Nostalgia" event at La Quinta de Arteaga salon on the outskirts of Montevideo, Uruguay, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to Uruguay's massive vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and the decrease in hospitalizations, the country is reopening the party and event sector, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)
1 of 9
People dance during a "Night of Nostalgia" event at La Quinta de Arteaga salon on the outskirts of Montevideo, Uruguay, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to Uruguay's massive vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and the decrease in hospitalizations, the country is reopening the party and event sector, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — After long months of illness, Uruguay is once again starting to dance.

The government last week authorized ballrooms and event halls to open as the country’s COVID-19 death rate — once among the highest in the world per capita — has fallen sharply.

Seventy percent of Uruguayans have received both doses of vaccines against the virus and once-overstressed hospitals now have empty beds.

The government decided to let ballrooms for dancing open five hours a day — though with limited capacity and mandatory 20-minute pauses each hour to air out closed spaces.

“It’s a very strange thing,” said Paola Dalto, a DJ with the “Cherry Show,” production aimed at the LGBT community which had to adapt its dance and music to the on-and-off rules.

Several ballrooms, and even people in the streets, raced to take advantage on Tuesday, which is usually “nostalgia night,” when clubs play music from decades past.

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The selective lockdowns have been devastating in a small nation of some 3.5 million people where tango and other dances are a powerful tradition. Sixty 60 venues closed, according to Javier Abal, president of the Association of Fiestas, which groups 100 ballrooms and event halls that depend heavily on weddings and the traditional celebrations for girls’ 15th birthdays.

Rosario Echavarría said the pandemic closure of her tango dance hall for older adults had “destroyed life ... I stumbled economically and emotionally.”

So she rented a bus and organized an open-air party in the countryside.

“For those who like to dance, you don’t take that away,” she said. “It’s their life.”

Also back are dances in open-air squares. Over the past weekend, Lucía Sotelo led a team of candombe dancers in a street in Montevideo’s Brazo Oriental neighborhood as 40 drummers pounded out the beat. Such open-air gatherings were authorized last month