Dancing With the Gays at the April Follies Same-Sex Dancesport Classic

Same-sex ballroom comes out of the closet.

It’d be easy to make an allegory out of the April Follies Same-Sex Dancesport Classic. If you think about it, the story of same-sex ballroom essentially runs parallel to the story of same-sex everything else in this country: Even as it flourishes in Europe and at LGBT-specific events like the Gay Games — and as opposite-sex ballroom dance enjoys increasing popularity, aided by shows like Dancing With The Stars — same-sex ballroom has been relegated to a for-us-by-us phenomenon, existing — and thriving — on the fringes and in the shadows. The primary organization that governs competitive partner dance, USA Dance has — deep into its 86-page rulebook and in a turn of phrase uncannily similar to anti-gay rhetoric, writ large — officially declared that a ballroom dance couple must be one male and one female.

But as satisfying an analogy as all this is, same-sex ballroom is less about politics than it is about having a good time, according to Barbara Zoloth, chair of the organizing committee for this weekend’s competition and also the president of the North American Same-Sex Partner Dance Association. Zoloth said she herself got into it because she just wanted to dance, and same-sex ballroom was simply where she felt most comfortable. “So, I got into it because I love to dance,” she said. “And it’s also political, to some degree. But I think the people that get involved in it are primarily people who love to dance.”

This weekend’s event, which has been designated the official national same-sex championship, is expected to draw more than sixty couples, including top-ranked dancers and Gay Games gold medalists — some of whom are among the best ballroom dancers in North America, but who have been banned from higher-profile competition by USA Dance’s rules. In terms of substance, same-sex ballroom differs little from straight ballroom: Competition is divided between Latin and Standard styles, and pairs of dancers perform simultaneously while judges award points for technique and style. Beyond the basic structure, however, all bets are off with same-sex ballroom: Zoloth said that sometimes you’ll see two men in suits and tails or two women in ball gowns, while other couples prefer to wear identical, more androgynous costumes. At more experienced levels, dancers will also switch roles mid-dance, the leaders becoming followers and vice-versa. It’s certainly an odd sight to see such typically mannered and conservative pastime appropriated — and, yes, subverted — like this, and Zoloth said that’s part of the fun, for spectator and participant alike. “It’s a sort of mind-bending thing to watch,” said Zoloth. “You have gay and lesbian friends, people who think they’ve lived through it all, who are blown away by this,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful, joyous, celebratory event; a place where people can feel not only safe, but supported and cheered.” Maybe there’s something to be said for allegory, after all.

The Ninth Annual April Follies Same-Sex Danceport Classic happens Saturday, April 30, at the Just Dance Ballroom (2500 Embarcadero, Oakland), and Sunday, May 1, at the Allegro Ballroom (5855 Christie Ave., Emeryville) and the Lake Merritt Dance Center (200 Grand Ave., Oakland). Full schedule: AprilFollies.com


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