Out to Dance: Ballroom & Latin Dance in the LGBT Community

Equality in partner dance

At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we believe everyone should have a safe place where they can learn to dance without fear or judgement. Whether couples are preparing for their wedding or simply dancing for fun, we welcome everyone to learn from us. Learn more about our services and how you can start dancing today:

An informal discussion about the Inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals and couples in the Ballroom Dance Community by the instructors at Ballroom Dance Chicago.

Matthew Writes:

Building a community of dance based on the traditions of formal ballroom and Latin dance in the LGBT community is vitally important, especially at this time, when the Supreme Court of the United States of America legalized same sex marriage in all 50 states. We see dance as important right now because this pastime of dancing with your partner in public - in non-LGBT venues - has been reserved for male/female couples. Our dream at Ballroom Dance Chicago is to see same sex couples take the dance floor, right along with the rest of society, without hesitation.

A few things must occur for this to happen: 1) the traditional ballroom dance culture must accept same sex couples on the dance floor, without seeing a need for a separate competition (The World DanceSport Federation currently bans same sex couples from competition). 2) Ballroom dance studios need to market specifically to same sex couples to let them know that they’re welcome and accepted. 3) Dance studios need to preach the value of dancing, especially in this age of connected disconnection. This one doesn’t just apply to the LGBT community; it  also applies to our culture in general. Those of us who see the amazing power of dance to connect people and create lasting bonds need to get the word out. 4) There have to be those brave souls in the LGBT community, who go out and dance proud in public.

To address number 1), the solution is relatively simple. The rules just need to change. Many people contest that the tradition of ballroom and Latin dance requires a man and a woman - meaning those are a necessary part of the dance and that a dance requires it. Dances were developed to be this way. While we respect this tradition, at Ballroom Dance Chicago, we do not believe the tradition is about gender identity or sexuality, but rather, about the relationship between two people during a dance - one as leader and one as follower (and, actually, we believe that this relationship can change throughout a dance. This is not us saying that a traditional couple, one man as leader and one woman as follower, is somehow seen as lesser. We’re simply saying that it doesn’t need to be the only way.). We also believe that a couple dancing together is beautiful when strength and power are balanced by finesse and grace. And we certainly don’t believe that these qualities are inherent to a specific sex. Yes, we admit that women are generally more graceful than men and that men are generally stronger than women, but this is not always the case. We’re not asking for a change in the rulebooks or changing the way that couples are judged. And if a same sex couples doesn’t have the same balance of grace and power as a man and lady couple, then they shouldn’t continue to the next round.  


Cathy Writes:

One of the most essential qualities of a successful dance partnership is the interplay between masculine and feminine energy. The really cool thing about learning to dance in an age where gender roles are less and less clearly defined is that both the leader and follower can possess each of these qualities.

Masculine energy provides a sense of power and strength while moving through space. This is important in order to initiate and sustain movement while representing the partnership as a confident driving force.

Conversely, feminine energy is essential to a dance partnership because it provides a sense of grace and fluidity to counterbalance the powerful, driving aspect of the dance.

When you put both qualities together, what you get is a beautifully balanced representation of what it means to be inherently connected with another person in action. What is really great is that we all know that both men and women possess these qualities; grace, power, fluidity, and strength. Unfortunately, the traditional ballroom dance community does not recognize how these roles can shift beyond gender stereotypes.


Matthew Writes:

One of the other reasons often given for holding dance competitions separately for man/lady couples and homosexual couples is that most dance governing bodies want dance to be considered a sport and they’ve pushed to have it included in the olympics.

At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we do not consider ballroom dance, Latin dance or any other partner dance a sport. Instead we consider these forms of dance art. That is not to say that they don’t have many attributes of sports, mainly physical exertion and competition. The main issue we have is that there is not currently a defined way, other than a subjective measurement, to judge professional dance couples. Couples don’t race, there are not standardized moves that must be included, etc. Couples dance together, expressing to the music in very stylized ways, and judges decide who they like most. Sure, you can argue that the judges are looking for technique and connection, but with at least a handful of couples on the floor at a time, the judges only get glimpses here-and-there of each couple. And at the open professional level, each dancer, without question, has impeccable technique and partnering skills. The real judgement is whether or not a judge likes a couple, if they’ve seen them dance before and if they have a personal relationship with them. We see ballroom dancing as an art form because the appreciation of a specific couple's expression of a dance is an entirely subjective matter. And since it is an art form, we see no reason to segregate competitions.

While some dance governing bodies, like the British Dance Council, say they’re “inclusive,” their rule book states that same sex couples can be banned from certain contest, just as “a man and a lady couple” (to use their terminology) may be banned from certain contests as well (i.e., some competitions are for same sex only and some competitions are for man and lady couples only). While these at first seems like a good balance between people who want to hold on to tradition and a more progressive outlook, it’s simply the same type of discrimination masked as inclusiveness. How do you think it would have gone over in Alabama if they had three kinds of buses: one for whites, one for blacks and white and one for blacks? Or if colleges had three types of classes? Segregation, on the whole, would have continued.


Rachael Writes:

A true feeling of equality always comes in the gain of seemingly small rights: African Americans gaining their right to sit anywhere on the bus in Montgomery, African Americans and whites sharing the same drinking fountains, etc.

This is because it is in life’s most basic moments that equality is truly fostered or taken away. This is not to say big legal changes like marriage equality or voting rights are not important, but being able to sit anywhere you’d like on the bus, to kiss your loved one in public, and to live without fear of being judged simply by the color of your skin or sexual orientation by friends, neighbors and co-workers are the things that truly make you feel equal everyday of your life. Marriage equality for LGBT couples is a giant, giant leap, and a great one, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that this group will feel any more comfortable being together out in public. In order to have true equality, we have to give this group of people their seemingly small rights- to kiss in public, to hold hands in public, to be honest with their employer about their sexual orientation, to have a child, to go on a date without people staring, to express their love among others without being judged.

What we’ve learned from the civil rights movement in the 1950s is that there is strength in numbers and community and that change can happen very quickly. It took only 48 years from the Montgomery bus boycotts for an African American man to be elected as president of the United States. In 1969, homosexual acts were still illegal in most states. Only 30 years later, we have a Supreme Court decision that legalizes same sex marriage in all 50 states. The community is growing stronger, speaking louder, and standing up, so of course, policy is changing. But even though the policy changes, that doesn’t necessarily mean that these people still won’t be judged for their sexual preferences.

There is still racial inequality today- segregation in large cities, hate groups, etc. regardless of the fact that African Americans have equal rights, and the same will hold true for the LGBT community. The good news for the LGBT community is that they’re not geographically segregated. They’re everywhere. They are in big cities, small towns, high income areas, low income areas, etc.

The trouble is the silent segregation that occurs for this group, all over the world, in every small town, big city, high income area, low income area, racial group, and religious group. If the LGBT community is too afraid to come out and share who they are with the rest of the world, they are only limiting their own possibilities. Not sharing contributes to the atmosphere of discrimination, and as Morgana Bailey states in her Ted talk, The Danger of Hiding Who You Are, “silence has social consequences.” The biggest hurdle is overcoming one’s own fears and inner self-doubts. The fear of being perceived as different, as a lesser human being, those fears are real and deep and awful feelings, but Bailey argues that the only thing that will help others come out is coming out yourself, and the only way to change the world’s perception of the LGBT community is to stand up and be seen and show them that they really aren’t any different and deserve to be treated as equals.

As a dance studio, we recognize that the tradition of ballroom dance has not been accepting of the LGBT community throughout history. It’s something that this community hasn’t had access to because tradition keeps them out. This is just another small way in which the community is denied one small right that could instead be an equal right. And though it may seem small, if these couples were granted the right to dance together in public, they would also be granted the right to express their love to one another in public. This goes beyond being able to marry one another and then feeling like they can’t hold hands at the grocery store or sway in each others arms at a local bar. So our aim at Ballroom Dance Chicago is to give the right to dance together to the LGBT community. Sure, there are plenty of places in big cities where the community joins together, away from judging eyes in gay bars and LGBT events that are safe spaces for this group, but separate is not equal. Separate drinking fountains were not good enough for African Americans, and separate dance halls are not good enough for gay people. We must integrate their community into the traditional dance community and give them one more tiny right to lead to equality.