Dr Dance Blog
|Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on September 10, 2019 at 10:25 AM|
It’s the start of the Strictly Come Dancing season and people are jumping from foot-to-foot and hopping up and down at the prospect of same-sex couples dancing on Saturday night TV.
I was contacted by the BBC yesterday and asked for my views on same-sex dancing, and whether I thought it should be included in Strictly Come Dancing. I really couldn't see any reason why same-sex dancing should be treated any differently from different-sex dancing. I was told tha even Len Goodman, one of the original judges on the show, is worried about it. He isn’t sure that same-sex dancing is the right way forward, and then I heard the views of several people who really didn't think that same-sex dancing should be allowed on the show.
The format of the show is well established. Male and female professional dancers are paired with female and male celebrities. Each week they learn a new ballroom or Latin dance and then perform it live on national TV in front of a panel of esteemed judges. Several weeks later someone is crowned the winner and they become a national treasure.
There is nothing in the format which precludes same-sex couples dancing, but traditionalists don’t like the idea. Here are seven reasons I’ve heard in the last 24 hours for why same-sex dancing should not be allowed on Strictly Come Dancing, and why I think each of these reasons is stupid.
1. Same-sex dancing is “not traditional”
This is stupid because dancing is a living, breathing art form which changes over time. Dancing evolves as ideas and cultures change. There are, of course, examples of traditional dance which are passed down from one generation to the next, but it is the evolution of dance which keeps it fresh, exciting and relevant
For many dances there is a distinction between “traditional styles” of the dance and a “ballroom style”, which tends to be more codified and choreographed. There is a lovely, funny, example, of the tension between traditional and ballroom styles of the Paso Doble in this clip from Baz Lurhmann’s film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUO5WPaIr-s" target="_blank">Strictly Ballroom.
To argue that same-sex dancing is “not traditional” is simply wrong. Same-sex dancing dates back further than the onset of competitive ballroom dancing. Groups of same-sex dancers has been doing it together for thousands of years. In some cultures same-sex dancing is the only way to dance. If people think that two men dancing together is a modern liberal idea then take a look at Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1GV5o5xNqU" target="_blank">Ziegfeld Follies from 1946.
2. But who will swish the skirt?
I heard a former professional dancer argue on BBC Three Counties radio that two men couldn’t dance together become some dances require a skirt to be swished and men would look silly in skirts. This is clearly stupid because, quite simply, there is no dance that “requires” a skirt to be swished. Skirt swishing is a physical expression of a feeling or the communication of an idea, and there are thousands of ways of communicating an idea or expressing a feeling without the need for a skirt.
But let’s assume that a skirt is necessary for a particular dance, and lets assume that we want to stay traditional. There are plenty of examples of men dancing together in skirts, just have a look at the https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkuimX1bh6g" target="_blank">Sufi Whirling Dervishes, or at some https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcmaMUiYqh4" target="_blank">traditional Greek men’s dance.
3. But who would do the lifting?
Many ballroom and Latin dances performed on Strictly Come Dancing include lifts. One stupid reason I heard for not allowing same-sex couples to dance together is because we wouldn’t know who should do the lifting.
I’ve thought about this a lot and I’ve come up with a solution. Perhaps the physically stronger of the partnership should do the lifting, and if the partners are equally strong then they could lift each other. If neither of the partners feel able to lift the other person then perhaps they could dance without lifting. There.
Ultimately, men can lift men and women can lift women. The ballet world, which is one of the most traditional forms of dance, has shown that sex is no barrier to lifting. Have a look at Mathew Bourne’s Swan Lake or at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXpQHzb1jx0" target="_blank">Ava Gordy’s video about dancing from a nonbinary perspective.
4. But who would lead?
In social ballroom and Latin dances, the sequence of movement is not pre-determined and as such one person “leads”, which means that they decide which movement to do next and subtly communicate this to the other dancer (the follower) through their body movement. Argentine Tango is especially famous for this. Typically, it is the man, in a female/male dance partnership, who leads. However, there are examples of dances where each partner takes it turns to lead.
However, in Strictly Come Dancing the dances are choreographed in advance (they are not created on the spur of the moment) and therefore there is no need for one person to take the lead during the dance performance. In fact, the lead will be taken during the development of the dance by the professional dancer, and the celebrity will take the role of the follower. This will happen regardless of the sex of the professional dancer. If the pro is female then she will take the lead, if the pro is male then he will take the lead. In this case the person with the most experience leads.
On this basis it makes no difference to the dance whether there are two men, two women, one of each, or none of either. The more experienced person will lead the teaching of the choreography and they will perform the dance together. If they decide to go off piste and freestyle, then either one of them can take on the role of the lead.
5. You cannot express emotion in same-sex couples
This one is simply bizarre. A woman said that if she was forced to dance a rumba, the dance of love, with another woman then she wouldn’t be able to express emotion during the dance performance.
A big chunk of performance dance is acting the character and telling a story. While couples who dance together make it look like they’re in love with their dance partner, the best dancers are also the best actors. In the rumba you act the dance of love – you don’t actually have to fall in love (though some people do), it is not a requirement.
The biggest challenge to communicating emotion through dance is not to do with the sex of your partner or your own sexuality, it is about feeling something in your heart and communicating it with your body and your partner.
6. But what happens if a heterosexual male professional dancer is paired with a homosexual male dancer?
Nothing will happen! Everything will be OK. Look at Fred and Gene. Maybe they’ll fall in love, maybe they’ll become lifelong friends, maybe they’ll do a brilliant job at the dancing, maybe they won’t get along and it’ll be terrible. It doesn’t matter what happens. Being in a dance partnership is just like working closely with another person in any other field of work. It’s a professional working relationship and sexual orientation shouldn’t get in the way.
Of course we sometimes love to watch dance-partnerships which are positively charged with sexual energy, but we also like watching dance-partnerships which are based on non-sexual relationships too, I’m thinking now of the wonderful partnership between Anne Widdicombe and Anton du Beke. Not all dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.
7. People might not like to watch it
Len Goodman said that some people might not like to watch same-sex couples dancing on TV and they might therefore choose not to watch the show.
Dance shows on the BBC, such as Strictly Come Dancing, should reflect society, and the society we live in is already full of same-sex couples dancing, and this is wonderful. Therefore, I believe that Strictly Come Dancing should introduce same-sex couples in the show.
The more we see same-sex dancing on mainstream TV, the more people will learn about it and with extra learning should come less ignorance and prejudice.