DanceSport in the Olympics

The state of affairs before 2000

On Sept. 8, 1997 IOC granted the International DanceSport Federation (IDSF) status as a recognized federation and a member of the IOC. This does not mean that dancing has been recognzed as a medal sport. It simply means that the IOC has recognized an international body for governing dance-sport. This recognition is granted under Chapter 29 of the IOC Charter. Chapters 30 and 57 of the IOC Charter grant the international federation for a given sport the right to set the technical rules for competitions in that sport. So IDSF gets to set all the rules for DanceSport including styling and technique. The reasons for having an international federation recognized by IOC, even though the sport is not included in the Olympics, are 1) because it is a requirement for ultimately becoming a medal sport and 2) IOC believes strongly in furthering sports on the international level.

DanceSport will NOT be a medal sport in Sydney in 2000 or in Athens in 2004. Under chapter 52 of the IOC Charter, sports must receive medal programme inclusion at least 7 years before the games begin, which means the deadline for the IOC Session (members) to vote on inclusion in the 2008 Olympics is September 2001. IDSF is planning on submitting an application for inclusion in 2008.

IDSF currently has 68 national members on five continents, including the United States. In the US, that national body is the USABDA a.k.a. USA DanceSport. However, only 35 of those national members have received recognition from their National Olympic Committees (out of 197 national olympic committees in the world). Under chapter 52 of the IOC Charter, a sport must be practiced by men in 75 countries on four continents, and by women in forty countries on three continents. The point being that the IDSF is still short a few countries necessary for medal programme inclusion. Chapter 52 further requires the disciplines which compose a sport to have recognized international standing both numerically and geographically; and to have been included at least twice in world or continental championships. [If I recall correctly, this does not include the World Championships or continental championships organized by and including only that sport - I believe this is directed at world and continental championships composed of multiple sports such as the World Games, Pan-American Games, Goodwill Games, European Championships, etc.] The World Games in Finland this year included Dance Sport for the first time.

USABDA / USA DanceSport is NOT currently recognized by the USOC. The reason is not the sinister motive ("the US won't medal so they won't recognize it") that was suggested. [I received some additional information this morning 11-10 regarding the source of the comment referred to above. I can't personally vouch for the accuracy, but I include it for context. USABDA apparently applied for USOC recognition several years ago. The issue never came to a vote because there was some sort of procedural change at USOC which had the effect of killing the USABDA petition. Peter Pover, then president of USABDA, believed he had the votes to get ballroom recognized at that time had it come to a vote. He interpreted what happened as a parliamentary trick specifically aimed at ballroom dance. The person who informed me of this believes that it is more likely that USABDA just got caught in the fallout.] However, prior to June 1997, USABDA had not filed/re-filed a petition for recognition with USOC. The application for recognition is currently under review.

As for country & western styling - we are faced with two options. Since IDSF sets the rules for DanceSport, they alone will decide what techniques and styling will be followed for their sport. So, we can either petition ISDF to recognize C&W as a discipline or event OR C&W can form their own international federation (ie. building off of UCWDC) and try to get their own recognition from IOC. Both paths have been used previously. The International Skating Union is the governing body for both figure skating and speed skating. On the other hand, the International Rowing Federation and the International Canoeing Federation recognize different sports; as do the International Judo Federation, World Taekwondo Federation, and the Federation Mondiale do Karate (provisional recognition).

What are the prospects for DanceSport reaching the medal programme? - keep in mind that the following international federations have been recognized by the IOC, but are not yet part of the medal programme: World Amateur Golf Council, Federation Mondiale de Karate, Federation Internationale de Polo, International Racquetball Federation, International Rugby Football Board, World Squash Federation, and 16 other federations. Golf and Squash are two of the most widely practiced sports in the world, and both contain the necessary infrastructure for recognition. And there can be little doubt about their classification as sport versus art. Yet, they are not part of the medal programme. [I would venture a pretty secure guess that both will reach the medal programme ahead of DanceSport due to the extent of both their numerical and geographical coverage.] Nevertheless, as IOC and the organizing committees try to keep the number of sports under control and in fact have cut some sports in recent years in order to protect Olympic "tradition" ("10,000 was meant to be a limit on the number of athletes, not the number of sports" according to one commentator), they are trying to keep pace with modern development in sport and include newer events which bear the traditional indicia of sport, particularly if they originate in the third world countries. The Latin influence in DanceSport may in fact, help it somewhat in this regard.

It appears that the biggest hurdle that DanceSport faces is the sport versus art distinction. The IOC recently held a roundtable forum on Sports and Culture. One of the general themes was that art was used to celebrate the sports - and that both art and sport form part of the Olympic Culture. Also, the panel members seemed to say that sports are inherently artisitic, but that which is artistic is not necessarily sporting. A number of commentators tried to define art versus sport, but they seem to have generally failed, and resigned themselves to "I know sport (or art) when I see it."

Carol Ann Letheren adpoted Plato's statement "The body must be trained for gymnastics and the soul for music" but she also admitted that "This is a timeless and endless discussion." She later stated: "This is not to suggest that art and sport offer an identical experience or that they can in any way stand in for each other. An evening at the stadium is no replacement for an evening at the theater...or vice versa. For many of us, the lack of either would be an impoverishment of our lives. But in both cases the attraction for us as spectators has a great deal to do with the allure of sheer bravado, sheer virtuosity, of seeing the boundary of what's humanly possible driven back." Another commentator suggested that sports are ephemeral and arts are permanant. Nevertheless, no one was able to sufficiently define the difference.

Charles Jencks made the following proposal aimed at resolving the art / sport distinction. "On the cultural front, the ancillary events that the Olympics sponsors could be extended and tied to limited competitions which introduce a bit of the Olympic spirit into art. Now the host city has parallel art fairs, music and drama festivals, and commissions pieces especially for two weeks or longer; but this strategy could be augmented with a 'Cultural Olympics' along the lines of what Coubertin envisaged." [Referring to Baron de Coubertin who was responsible for the modern revival of the Olympics. Coubertin's original vision for the Olympics was a celebration of sport, art, and culture. The Olympics then evolved so that the sports became the center of attention, and art and culture began a way of glorifying sport.] The cultural event in Atlanta 1996, the Olympic Arts Festival, ran from June 1 - August 4, 1996 and was by far the largest cultural event ever. [As a guess, expect this proposal to receive a considerable amount of discussion in the near future.]

One other comment, which is mostly conjecture. In the thread about sport and art, someone raised the issue about ice dancing. The IOC forum discussed this issue very briefly, but never really came out with an answer. However, given the context, it looks like the difference between dancing and ice dancing is probably the ice. Both certainly require a great deal of skill to do well. But, dancing is a part of our normal experience - walking with a great deal of skill and style, you might say. Ice dancing presents an enhanced challenge simply because you wouldn't normally dance on ice. Both are definitely very interpretive and artistic. But it seems that the ice is what makes ice dancing a sport.

From a personal point of view - I think the best comment about all this was from an Australian reporter who said "I refuse to believe that anything performed in a dinner suit is an actual sport. Not until there is a ball in ballroom."

Christopher L. Brinkley, Esq. Turner & Associates, P.A.

What happened in 2000?

The Daily Telegraph in Australia reported that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has REJECTED DanceSport for inclusion as a Medal program. Actually, ballroom dance wasn't singled out: no new sports were approved for the Olympics in Athens. Not Rugby, not Cricket, not DanceSport, nothing. Sports reporter Ray Chesterton has written a very negative article that supported the IOC's decision:

"No man wearing a dinner suit and a haughty look should ever be in contention for an Olympic gold medal. A headwaiter's job maybe. But never an Olympic final. Dancing isn't sport. It's fast walking to music. How difficult can it be? ..." [from]

Some sample reactions from

DanceScape wrote:

Cool. Can we now change the name back to "ballroom dancing"?

> It's fast walking to music. How difficult can it be? ...

That's pretty funny, considering that fast walking is an olympic sport. [Victor Eijkhout]

"Any activity that requires the woman to wear heels and men to wear tuxes [tails] cannot be called an Olympic Sport." Unlike dressage, which requires both men and ladies to wear tails and is an Olympic medal sport? [Warren Dew]

I know this will provoke the ire of many, but I just have to say it....
Thank god that's over.
I just wonder what the IDSF is going to do for fun now. Can they re-apply? I kind of hope not, I was one of the silent few who thought that putting ballroom into the Olympics was a silly idea anyway. And that's coming from a confirmed dance-and-competition addict, so it's not like I don't know what the activity is all about.

> I guess the only thing I'll
> potentially miss is the increased television coverage (specials on NBC,
> ESPN, A&E, etc.) dancesport was getting, allegedly because of the Olympic
> push.

TV coverage all depends on ratings...ESPN shows cheerleader and aerobic dance competitions, and those aren't in the Olympics either. So, if the ballroom competitions got good ratings and IMG keeps pushing and selling the idea of comps on TV, then they might not go away. [Laura Lagasse]

I love to dance all partnership dances and think that if included in the Olympics, it would have generated an enormous amount of public interest in partnership dancing. Would not everyone who loves to dance like to see the whole world dancing? [L. Perez]

It is presumptuous to think that inclusion of dancesport in the Olympics would do anything to inspire the populace to take up partnership dancing. How is your flag twirling, syncopated swimming, etc., coming along? :-) [Ed Jay]

The Olympics will take us down the road from the present highly developed art form to a splashy sideshow. The experience with figure skating shows that for judged Olympic sports, no technique is needed - just the showiest, splashiest tricks possible. I wouldn't be surprised if, twenty years from now, Olympic ballroom looks like today's theatre arts - lots of lifts and splashy moves, but very little real dancing. To find people who know how to use their feet and legs, we may have to watch the marathon. [Warren Dew]

There are a lot of events which I am not sure belong in Olympic competition (synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics, ice dancing, etc.). But as long as these types of things actually *are* Olympic sports, I think that ballroom "danceSport" should get a cut of the medals, free publicity, visibility and general interest that come with being part of the Olympics. Sure, some people will laugh at it; but I'd bet that danceSports viewship would be greater than a lot of other minor Olympic events. [Ron Nicholson]

Now what, Dancesport?

Read the IDSF statements.

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Last modified on: February 2002.