BYU allows for same-sex couples in national ballroom competition

Members of the BYU Ballroom Dance Company rehearsing. (Addie Blacker)

BYU will now allow same-sex couples to compete at the U.S. National Amateur Dancesport Championships, a U.S. Title ballroom dance competition that the university has hosted for over 20 years. 

The competition, which will be held in the Marriott Center from March 11-14, is sanctioned by the National Dance Council of America.

“As we are hosting an event that is sanctioned by the NDCA, we are obligated to follow their rules and regulations,” BYU Dance Department Chair Curt Holman said.

According to Holman, the NDCA has always defined a couple as a man and a woman. That changed in September when a lawsuit changed that rule to place no restriction on what gender combination constitutes a couple.

The current definition of a couple according to the NCDA rulebook for sanctioned events is “a leader and follower without regard to the sex or gender of the dancer.”

Holman said this change created uncertainty and a short adjustment period for all events sanctioned by the NDCA across the country as people figures out how they would manage that change. 

“It goes far beyond same-gender couples. What does this mean for the traditional dancing roles of leader and follower? There’s a lot of questions that need to be ironed out,” Holman said. 

Holman said BYU had originally received permission from the NDCA to operate under the old set of rules this year, maintaining the male/female couple distinction. 

Beginning last week, however, administrators began telling students and competitors alike that BYU will be abiding by the new rules at this spring’s competition.

“The reason we made a change was that this is a US Title event, so we looked at it and decided that we would follow the full rules of the NDCA, and we have been authorized by the university to do so,” Holman said. 

The lead-up and aftermath of this change created some controversy and misunderstanding on social media within the ballroom dance community. Katarina and Xingmin Lu, a prolific senior amateur ballroom couple from the Czech Republic, announced in a Facebook post that they would not be attending this year’s competition at BYU because of their exclusion of same-sex couples. 

“This is a very difficult decision for us after many years of competing there and having won many national titles,” Katarina Lu said in her post, speaking of the traditional male/female couples that were originally allowed to compete, she said, “Even if my husband and I fit the definition of one of these couples, we don’t believe that this is the only option for our sport. And we believe that this competition leads dancesport in the wrong direction.”

Holman says the decision to abide by the new NDCA rules had already been made but not publicized before Lu’s announcement on Saturday. This misunderstanding was resolved after Lu contacted BYU Ballroom Dance Secretary Katie Davidson, who confirmed that BYU would follow the NDCA’s definition of a couple for the competition in March.

“I was very glad to hear BYU’s announcement,” Lu told The Daily Universe. “I believe this new policy is a first step in the direction towards a dance community that is inclusive and united.”

Lu and her husband are once again planning on attending the competition. 

BYU students in the ballroom dance program have mixed reactions to the decision. Landon Anderson, a member of the touring ballroom team, is concerned about the way this new policy will affect the judging and the audience. 

He explained that the students were originally told that the new policy would not take effect for at least another couple of years, and he was confused when the decision suddenly changed earlier this week.

“I do not want to discriminate against anyone who wants to dance in a same-sex partnership. In fact, the skill it takes to be able to do both roles is commendable,” Anderson said. “However, to me, ballroom dance has always been about displaying traditional male and female roles. I’ve received training from men who identify as gay who taught me that a man should dance like a man and a woman should dance like a woman and the contrast is beautiful.”

Students and administrators have just under two months to adjust to the idea and make proper accommodations for judging before the competition in March.

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