Entertainment

Same-sex ballroom dancing comes to SF

Friday, November 06, 2009

ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" TV show has launched an explosion of interest in ballroom dancing all over the country and some dancers are hoping the excitement will help them bring the ballroom of out of the closet.

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Get a load of the twists and spins on "Dancing With the Stars" and you just might want to take a spin around the floor yourself. That's what's happening at dance schools all over the Bay Area.

Now a growing number of gays and lesbians are saying they want to take a turn around the ballroom too -- and it's not just beginners. Professional level same-sex dance competitions have been huge in Europe for years. A home video shows the all women's ballroom competition in the World Outgames in Copenhagen last summer. Zoe Balfour and Citabria Phillips from Oakland took home a gold medal.

A similar competition comes to San Francisco. These dancers are practicing for "California Dreaming," one of the largest same-sex competitions in the United States.

"It's becoming so popular it feels like it's the future of ballroom dancing," says Jeff Chandler.

Chandler is one of the competition organizers. He teaches a same-sex dance class at the Cheryl Burke Studio in San Francisco.

"They are walking into the studios for the very first time and they are saying either 'My future husband and I, or my future wife and I ,are going to get married and we want to be able to do that waltz just like everybody else at our wedding,'" says Chandler.

For student Philippe Berthoud of Richmond, the class is partly about dancing and partly a political statement for the gay and lesbian community.

"Same-sex dancing has increased our visibility and I think as much as we become more visible, the mainstream culture gets more exposed to same gender love, and hopefully that will contribute to people changing attitudes," says Philippe Berthoud.

USA Dance, the governing body that makes rules for ballroom dance competitions, does not allow same sex couples. So same-sex dancers have formed a national association of their own. Men compete against men, women against women. The rules are a little different. Instead of male and female parts, there is the leader and the follower. Also, the lead can change back and forth.

"It still maintains what ballroom dancing is all about which is an action and a response," says Chandler.

Dance teacher Jennifer Davis is straight, but she's helping organize the same-sex competition in San Francisco.

"The enthusiasm at same-sex ballroom competitions was greater than anything I had experienced in the mainstream ballroom world in the last 15 years, so I wanted to be part of it," says Davis.

"It's socially healthy and its physically healthy and it's great learning how to communicate well within a partnership with common goals. And I feel like ballroom dancing is just healthy for you in every way," says Emily Coles, a dancer.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.

LINKS:
For information on Same Sex Dance Competition in San Francisco 11/7/09: California Dreaming Dance Sport

For information about Same Sex Dancing Classes:
Zoe Balfour & Citabria Phillips
Vima Dance Studio
Jeff Chandler at Cheryl Burke Dance Studio
Cheryl Burke Dance Studio

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