NEFFA Should Allow Small Children

November 25th, 2022
contra, covid-19
When I was little we would go to the NEFFA festival every year. I loved seeing the dancing: contra dance, international, dance performances. I loved listening to the music: bands, performances, hallway jamming. I loved eating the cake the Lithuanian booth would sell. My cousins would come up from Philadelphia, and it was one of my favorite weekends of the year.

Those early experiences at NEFFA got me into an activity and a community that has been a huge part of my life ever since. I've been a dancer, musician, caller, and helped organize a dance series and weekend. I've been bringing my kids with me when I go early to set up for the dance and when I travel to play dances elsewhere, and I'm glad they're getting to enjoy something that's been so important to me.

Which is why I was so disappointed to learn that the first in-person NEFFA since 2019 has chosen a covid policy that excludes small children.

Regrettably, out of concern for everyone's safety, children who for whatever reason are unable to remain appropriately masked as described above, including those two years of age or younger, are not permitted to attend this year's Festival.

When I described this policy to my cousin their response was "I guess that means we won't be able to go this year." I think this will likely be a common response among families with small children, and an unfortunate one.

How seriously organizers and individuals should be trying to limit covid spread is something there's a lot of disagreement on, mostly tracing back to different interpretations of the limited amount we know about the long-term impacts of getting sick. If the NEFFA organizers want to put on a very covid-cautious event that's not something I think people should give them grief over, and I'd rather see an in-person NEFFA for part of the community than no in-person event at all. But while if the precautions under which they were able to hold the event were uniformly strict I could see excluding people to young to mask, they aren't uniformly strict:

  • There will be indoor dining, people eating and talking with masks off.

  • Wind instruments are (likely—there's a case-by-case component) allowed with same-day testing.

  • Despite rapid tests now being cheap and widely available, they don't require them.

  • They have an exception process for adults who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons.

I don't think these policy choices are terrible, but I also don't see how they're compatible with a view that small children are too risky to allow. I would like to encourage the NEFFA organizers to rethink their decisions here, and figure out whether there's a way to include them safely. For example, allowing them to attend with same-day rapid testing, perhaps combined with distancing restrictions, like no baby-in-carrier contra dancing?

Putting on a festival like NEFFA is a massive amount of work, and it's impressive that NEFFA has managed this while continuing to be an all-volunteer organization. There are a huge number of decisions involved in putting on an event of this scale, especially while organizing the first one in four years and at a new venue, and I don't expect I'm going to agree with every single one. Still, I think the effect this has on who can attend the festival is large enough and uneven enough that more discussion and consideration are needed.

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