Same-sex waltz

by Eszter Hargittai on July 22, 2006

This week, Chicago has been hosting Gay Games VII. It’s been fun to have all the various high quality sports competitions in town. Of course, as a spectator, there is not much difference when you watch the competitions at these events vs others since most sports tend to be divided by gender. However, couples sports (like figure skating or dancing) may look a bit different. But actually, only if you focus in on the gender aspect.

It should not be much surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention that I opted to go see the Dance Sports event. I only made it to the A-level competition of the men’s Latin dances and the women’s 10-dance, but this was just as well since this is the highest level under international rules. It was superb.

Anecdotally, my impression has been that most people in Chicagoland have either been excited about the Gay Games in town or haven’t paid much attention. But of course there is the occasional hostile approach. You really do have to wonder why people can’t just let others be as you’re standing there in the ballroom with all the energy and enthusiasm from both the crowd and the participants. Better yet, imagine if peope realized that they could even get something out of these events themselves, like enjoying the hard work of some very talented people.

The surprise of the event for me was to find out that the World Champion couple for men’s Latin hales from Hungary. In the Gay Games this week they placed third. I found out from them that Budapest will be hosting this year’s Same Sex Dance Competition . This made me wonder how the competition (and related associations and studios) got that particular name. Is use of the term “gay” exclusionary? Is it less politically charged to say “same sex”? Is the idea that not everyone who participates is gay? Anyone know the history of this? Apologies if I’m missing something obvious.



gb 07.22.06 at 6:15 pm

“The surprise of the event for me was to find out that the World Champion couple for men’s Latin hales from Hungary.”

Why is that a surprise — Hungary should do well in dancing, given all of the gymnasium students taking lessons in preparation for the Szalagavato (an annual ball for the class of students admitted to the high school finishing exams).


DonBoy 07.22.06 at 6:46 pm

I have a friend who’s competing in the tennis part of this, and I can tell you that gay tennis mixed doubles is one man, one woman, like God inten– I mean, like everywhere else. I did at first find it surprising that gay leagues bother to have mixed doubles, since some of the appeal of an amateur sports league must be the social aspect, but they do also have women’s doubles and men’s doubles.


mpowell 07.22.06 at 7:15 pm

So, I’m curious, in what way is the competition exclusive? Two men only? Two men or two women only? If its the latter, calling it a ‘same sex’ competition makes a lot of sense. No reason to exclude straight same-sex dance couples, I suppose.


Richard 07.22.06 at 9:05 pm

There may be an important difference: Tango and Milonga started out as same-sex dances – men would dance with men – apparently with no implications for sexual orientation.


Eszter 07.22.06 at 9:13 pm

gb – I didn’t mean surprising in the sense that it was implausible, but in the sense that it was fun for me to find out given that I’m from Hungary. So I then went over to the couple and started chatting with them. They seemed happy to get to speak in Hungarian to someone other than each other. (They’ve been training in Sacramento for a few months so they haven’t been around Hungarians much.)

Interesting point, Richard, I didn’t know that about the history of those dances. Tango is part of the Standard dance pack (while Jive is part of the Latin pack, go figure) so that would be part of these competitions.

Calling it same-sex makes sense if the goal is to open it to everyone regardless of being gay or straight.


blah 07.22.06 at 11:00 pm

How do they ensure that the contestants are actually gay?


Tano 07.23.06 at 3:52 am

Why would it be open to straights in the “gay games”? I don’t imagine other events are, are they? If so, then what is the meaning of the event?


Uncle Kvetch 07.23.06 at 7:42 am

“The Gay Games are open to anyone. […] If you are a recreational or master athlete, an emerging or acclaimed artist, physically challenged, young or old, near or far, LGBT or heterosexual, you are invited to join us in Chicago for a week of friendship, open expression, and global community.”

–From the Games’ official site


Steve 07.23.06 at 12:58 pm

Would it even be legal to exlude heterosexuals?
Should it?
Is your answer consistent to your opinion about the Boy Scouts’ policy?



Uncle Kvetch 07.23.06 at 1:10 pm

Would it even be legal to exlude heterosexuals?

Not in the city of Chicago it wouldn’t.

Should it?


Is your answer consistent to your opinion about the Boy Scouts’ policy?

Yes. The Gay Games shouldn’t exclude on the basis of sexual orientation. Neither should the Boy Scouts.

Did you have a point to make, Steve?

Didn’t think so.


Jim 07.23.06 at 1:16 pm

They use “same-sex” because straight people can dance together, too.

In my experience, (12 years of dancing, starting in college) experienced dancers like to try new things, including switching role from leader to follower. So, naturally there’s going to be a certain amount of same-sex dancing. At the college level (at least in DC) nobody has a problem with it when you do it socially. In competition, the main problem is that there’s always more women than men, so two men dancing together means that there are two women without partners. So, we started adding same-sex competition for fun.

By the way, for people who are wondering why the women don’t dance together like the men… First of all, they do. But second, it’s easier for two men to compete will then for two women. The reason for this is that many women don’t know how to lead much other than the basic steps, so when they switch to leading, their options are limited. A man who switches to following doesn’t have to worry about that, if he’s dancing with a good leader.


Eszter 07.23.06 at 2:29 pm

Jim, yes, there were plenty of female couples as the Gay Games event.

The club where I dance, both women and men switch off roles occasionally. We do have classes where more men show up so sometimes men volunteer to be in the follower role. But we also have women taking on leader roles. It can be really helpful and educational in both directions.

I disagree with your comment about the ease of taking on the follower vs leader role. If you’re just talking very simple amateur level then perhaps that’s true (although you’re unlikely to find good leaders at that level). A good leader needs a good follower and both roles come with specific know-how. When guys switch over to follower role, it isn’t at all that obvious for them how to do it well, the operative word being “well”.

Regarding the names of these events, okay, so people can’t be excluded. But the Gay Games are called “Gay” Games nonetheless, whereas other competitions are called “same sex”. So I was just curious why the discrepency. Of course, there doesn’t have to be some big deep reason.


Uncle Kvetch 07.23.06 at 3:50 pm

So I was just curious why the discrepency. Of course, there doesn’t have to be some big deep reason.

I see what you mean, Eszter. My only hunch is that competitive dancing, if I’m not mistaken, is pretty much defined in terms of mixed-sex couples, unlike most of the sports in the Gay Games, which are individual or team-based. So the term “same-sex” helps to clarify things in a way that “gay” alone might not. I mean, you could theoretically have a “gay” dancing competition with mixed-sex couples consisting of gay men & lesbians.

Or, as you suggest, maybe the best answer is “Because.”


luci 07.23.06 at 5:01 pm

Maybe “same-sex” translates more precisely than “gay”, especially if multiple languages are involved. Dunno…


Richard 07.23.06 at 8:45 pm

same-sex at least doesn’t exclude sombre dancing…

Once you’ve stated that people of every sexual orientation are welcome, including heteros, it seems rather a shame to insist tht people can’t mix genders on the dancefloor. Why not “all combinations dancing?”

I know, this wasn’t the original question posted.

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