For those that missed the announcement, on September 14th, 2019, the National Dance Council of America announced that a couple -- for purposes of competitive dancesport -- will now be defined as a leader and follower without regard to the sex or gender of the dancer. Accordingly, same sex or gender-neutral couples are now able to compete with opposite-sex couples in all competitive ballroom dance genres including championships, competitions, and events sanctioned by the NDCA. This is super exciting news, but there are some interesting questions that this rule change will raise. In our recent YouTube video, we talk about six reasons why non-gendered partnerships will change dancesport (for the better, of course!).
1. Representation and Inclusion
This change will increase representation and inclusivity in all dancesport events, which is so important! I think it goes without saying that the dance community is wide and diverse, so seeing same-sex or gender-neutral couples on the dance floor will better represent the community that we already have in place. I think that's important, not only to acknowledge that those folks are part of the community, but also so that younger dancers can see that there is a wide variety of ways that you can be a part of this amazing ballroom community and have a home in dancesport. The community already tries to foster that, but its important to also have that represented on our championship levels, scholarship events, and Pro-Am events.
2. Everyone is Incentivized to Learn Both the Lead and Follow Roles
Reason number 2 why this is going to change the future of dancesport is that it will hopefully incentivize students to learn both the lead and follow roles. Even though I would traditionally fall into the follow's role, learning both the lead and the follow's footwork and technique and how the two interplay with each other was so crucial in my understanding of dance. It has increased my ability as a follow to understand and keep and eye out for the lead's signals.
I think that, historically, there has been a stigma in ballroom dance against men learning the follow's role or women learning the lead's roles, which has really been detrimental to a lot of couples and students that I have worked with. Having lead and follow be gender-neutral terms and having them be de-gendered on a competition level is really going to help encourage more students to take their dancing to the next level.
There is still a lot of language, especially in the youth sport rules and regulations, that implies the use of very specific gender costumes. However, the existing costume expectations are going to need to change and adapt to the new rules to be less gendered and more expressionistic than they have ever been in the past.
Across the board, these rules will need to change. I cannot wait for the Billy Porter dressed in Christian Siriano clothing moment to happen at an NDCA event and I look forward to how creative designers are going to become as result of gender-neutral partnerships.
4. Breaking Down of Current Stereotypes in Lead and Follow Roles
Reason number 4 is that these changes will hopefully lead to conversations about gender stereotypes in lead and follow roles. Whether we like it or not, there are large gender stereotypes that are baked into the dancesport lead and follow roles. Moving towards non-gender partnerships will hopefully make us all more aware of those stereotypes as we are teaching and as we're learning.
5. Expression and Curriculum
These new rules will hopefully lead to new expression and curriculum for dancesport in the U.S. When you switch the roles of the lead and follow or the genders that are falling into those roles, I think we're going to start to come up with a whole lot of different options that might break current curriculum. Dancing may need to focus more on choreography, allowing for more interesting artisitic expressions. In particular, it might be worthwhile to take a closer look at some of our lead or follow centered curriculum rules -- especially in the American syllabus -- to decide whether some patterns should now be available to both the lead and the follow roles.
6. Opening the door to additional changes
Lastly, we get to reason number 6 which is that this change opens the door for more inclusivity across the board.
If you look at dancesport in other parts of the world -- Asia and Europe especially -- you see the community embracing folks that have mobility differences such as individuals in wheelchairs. That's not really embraced by the NDCA yet. A more focused effort on inclusivity will hopefully also include inclusivity regarding mobility differences. There are already amazing groups like American DanceWheels Foundation , Dance Ability, and Infinite Flow Dance Studio that are trying to bring mobility differences into the public consciousness.