Socializing and social distancing are finding a way to go hand-in-hand.
For the folks who never got into golf or tennis, even with those games' recent social distancing guidlines, another option is creeping back onto calendars. Outdoor group exercise has returned on Longboat Key, though accompanied by a host of asterisks, rules and safety measures.
Debby McClung of Feel Good Yoga has been teaching virtual classes throughout the pandemic, though it’s not the same.
“I’ve gotten so used to looking straight ahead at the camera (when I teach),” McClung said. “I’m trying to get used to human interaction again.”
As the state begins to reopen, she’s taught two in-person yoga classes since mid-May. Her studio remains closed, but the green space at Bayfront Park, alongside the rec center, was open. She called Mark Richardson of the town's Parks and Recreation department and asked if she could teach outside. The green space never actually closed for instruction, but none of the rec center's instructors chose to teach outside. Classes just have to be fewer than 10 people and adhere to social distancing guidelines, of course. The center is unlikely to reopen soon, as no classes run there in the summer anyway, Richardson said.
“I don’t think people are ready to come back into closed spaces yet,” McClung said.
As class began, McClung’s six students spread out on the grass alongside Sarasota Bay with six feet or more between them, the lucky ones nabbing the shade from the palms overhead. Florida's approaching summer is a prohibiting factor for McClung, who said she’ll teach until it gets too hot. At 9 a.m. on May 20, it was about 80 degrees. For how long will people show up to work out outside?
It’s a question Suzy Brenner, executive director of the Paradise Center, is also pondering. Brenner reopened the Paradise Center’s porch — outdoors only — for four classes a week beginning on May 18. The first class, Stretch and Strengthen, didn’t happen because of morning storms. Later in the week, the rain held off, but it was still steamy, and working up a sweat in Zumba didn’t take long. Brenner hopes to fight off the heat with fans and shade sails.
"Our space indoors does not have enough room to adhere to physical distancing guidelines," Brenner said. "Unfortunately, the best section of porch with the best breeze and is quietest, faces the post office, so it also gets morning sun. We’ll just see what everybody says and what they’re comfortable with."
At the Paradise Center, Brenner signed students in herself, rather than passing around a clipboard. During the class, students took care to stay apart from each other, going one at a time into the building if necessary. The wraparound porch held three students plus Brenner, and with construction on the medical side of the center happening on the other end of the porch, not many more could fit. The students who came were happy they did, however, and Brenner said that during this time of year, they typically don’t get more than 10 students at a time, so she doesn't anticipate class size to become a problem.
Of the four classes Brenner is hosting, two are physical exercise and two are for brain exercise. The Thinking Out Loud discussion group is back, along with a new Fun and Games group. For the two students who came to Fun and Games, Brenner had them play a game in which they came up with names of celebrities who had initials matching the letters of the alphabet alongside the letters from the first line of the Star-Spangled Banner.
“We should be playing the game,” Catherine Schulz said when the conversation veered.
“This is good too,” Brenner said.
After yoga, students lingered to chat.
“It’s good to be around other people,” yoga student Susan Veshosky said. “There’s an energy you don’t get (online). I come out here for mental health, for physical health.”
At the Paradise Center, Brenner keeps a Paradise Center-branded mask (made for her by one of her board members) on most of the time, except during exercise classes. Experts agree that when outdoors, people should take care to social distance and wear masks when that is not possible.
“I feel like people are venturing out now,” McClung said. “It’s really healthy for us who feel healthy to have interaction again, and some fresh air.”