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Potential ban on same-sex dance partners at BDC competitions

Posted on July 11, 2014

square john and alex

square-john-and-alexTo the horror of equal rights campaigners, the British Dance Council (BDC) will consider proposals that define a partnership as “one man and one lady… unless otherwise stated”. The proposal, which will be debated by the BDC’s board of directors on July 21, would bar same-sex couples from mainstream contests.

In a letter to the secretaries of the BDC’s corporate members, president Bryan Allen said that the proposed rule would be “purely a matter for the individual promoter”, but added that promoters would “no doubt take into consideration the feelings of the competitors, the physical strength and stamina of a same-sex couple who might be included in a competition”.

Allen said the BDC had “no intention” of banning same-sex couples from competitions, saying: “If all promoters said ‘it’s for mixed-sex couples only’ [a ban] could be a possibility, but I can’t imagine that.”

Same-sex dancers and equal rights campaigners are appalled by the proposal. Heather Devine, who with her partner Chrisi Lyons is the current same-sex Senior women’s champion, has written an open letter to the BDC in protest. Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell argued that: “For same-sex couples to depend upon the whim of the British Dance Council and individual competition organisers is extremely unfair. The default position is that same-sex couples are banned.”

Currently, there is nothing to prevent same-sex couples from competing in UK ballroom dancing events. If the new ruling is passed, John Church and Alex Lewalle (pictured), who won the over-35 Pre-Championship category at the UK Closed Championship, could be prevented from defending their title at Bournemouth this month. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s discriminatory,” Church told The Indepdendent. “If it goes through, it means basically the end to my dancing career on the mainstream scene, which is where I want to be dancing.”

Allen argued: “You don’t have two men in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon. The skill factor is the same, whether you’re mixed sex or same-sex, but there are other factors involved. It’s an attempt to make it fairer for everybody.” It has been argued that an all-male couple is likely to have more physical strength and stamina on the floor.

The United Kingdom Same Sex Dance Council (UKSSDC) argues that “dance competitions are not to do with strength, but are rather judged on qualities of poise, presentation, timing, musicality and technique”. In a petition urging the BDC not to exclude same-sex couples, the UKSSDC argues that banning same-sex couples would be “a backwards step in a society which continues to recognise the equality and rights of same sex-couples” and would deprive many dancers of chances to compete. 


Picture: John Church and Alex Lewalle. Photograph: Murray Thompson




Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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