Same-sex dancers decry proposed UK ballroom ‘ban’

Same-sex dancers decry proposed UK ballroom ‘ban’
Ballroom dancers
Sergio Brilhante, left, and Jonathan Morrison take part in a ballroom dancing competition . The governing body of ballroom dancing in Britain has stirred controversy by proposing to ban same-sex couples from competitions. Hannah Brackenbury, AP

LONDON — It takes two to tango – but does a same-sex couple qualify?

Britain’s governing body of ballroom dancing has stirred controversy by proposing to change the definition of a competing partnership to be “one man and one lady” – a move that equality advocates and same-sex dancers called discriminatory Friday.

The world of competitive ballroom dancing – satirized famously in Baz Luhrmann’s film “Strictly Ballroom” – has traditionally been dominated by couples made up of a man and a woman, although a small number of same-sex dancers currently also compete alongside them.

Critics say the rule change proposed by the British Dance Council could ban same-sex couples from mainstream competitions.

The changes were proposed following complaints that all-male couples are physically stronger and have better stamina than mixed-sex couples.

“We’re looking to regulate the situation, as there is nothing in the rules at the moment,” said Bryan Allen, the body’s president.

But dancers argue they should be judged by their dancing, not their gender.

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Sergio Brilhante, a former professional who competed with a male partner, said the argument that men are stronger than women may work for sports like tennis but does not apply to dance – and it certainly does not apply to all-female couples.

“Dance is about technique and choreography, about moving well on the floor,” he said. “People didn’t react very well in the beginning, but after some judges saw us more than once, they came to understand we just dance like any other competitor.”

The dance council insists it does not discriminate, and that same-sex couples could still take part in some competitions should the body vote to approve the rule change.

But Brilhante says there are very few events catering to same-sex dancers, and they are not as prestigious as the mainstream competitions.

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