Left, right, left, right ... forward, backward ... hop, hop, hop.
Pardon me, but I'm in training for the 2000 Olympics. In case
you missed the big news that has set the Olympic world atwitter,
on April 3 the International Olympic Committee granted
provisional recognition to ballroom dancing and surfing. The
decision was a small but essential step in the two activities'
long waltz toward their eventual goal of medal status, and since
I do not surf....
You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out, you put
your left foot in, and you shake it all about....
There are naysayers, of course, those who do not see ballroom
dancing-officially known in the U.S. as dance sport since
changing its name in 1989--as Olympian fare. One is John
Krimsky, interim executive director of the U.S. Olympic
Committee. After the IOC announcement, Krimsky said, "I would
hope some sanity will come back into the selection of Olympic
Right. As if the traditional Olympic sports, like modern
pentathlon, are examples of sanity. About 15 people
worldwide--most of them out-of-work East German
generals--participate in that arcane event, which is about as
modern as a windup watch. The modern pentathlon, which combines
fencing, horseback riding, pistol shooting, running and
swimming, achieves an almost impossible trifecta: It's
expensive, it's time-consuming, and it has no fan base. Yet Mr.
Krimsky chooses to question the sanity of dance sport.
Granted, dance sport has an image problem. Like Ping-Pong and
badminton, ballroom dancing as sport is a difficult concept to
grasp. Yet badminton and table tennis are in the Olympics. Why
not dance sport? Chris Dorst, vice chairman of the USOC's
Athletes Advisory Council, dismissively suggests, ''If you can
smoke and drink while you're actually competing, that's not a
Hasn't he ever heard of yachting? That's an Olympic sport, but
it's easier to light up and sail sloshed aboard a Flying
Dutchman than it is to puff and drink while doing the rumba. If
Dorst insists on belittling disciplines he considers
nonathletic, why not start with shooting, a so-called sport in
which Olympians ideally have the heart rate of a cadaver? Or
curling, Canada's answer to shuffleboard? "These guys are living
in the dark ages,'' says Peter Pover, a former competitive
ballroom dancer and past president of the U.S. Dance Sport
Council. ''At the moment the USOC is a long way behind the game.
It's in a total state of denial.''
American reaction to dance sport continues the country's long
tradition of sporting isolationism. Abroad, the International
Dance Sport Federation is robust and growing, with 62 member
countries on six continents. The U.S. has about 2,000
competitive dancers; Germany has 100,000. Dance sport
competitions fill 10,000-seat arenas in Asia and Europe. It's
shown on prime-time television, attracting deep-pocketed
sponsors. "And don't tell me it isn't athletic," says Pover. "In
Germany, doctors did tests in which they wired up the country's
800-meter running champion and its amateur dance champions. They
found no significant athletic difference between running 800
meters and doing the quickstep for 1-1/2 minutes. And that's just
one dance. In competitions couples have to do five 90-second
dances in a row, with only 20 seconds between dances. Plus, the
girls have to do it going backwards! All a runner has to do is
jog around the track. And U.S. Olympic officials are patronizing
Yes, they are. Moreover, USOC officials tend to get testy at the
idea of further divvying up the money they have to support
nonrevenue Olympic sports. "If ice skating is a sport, we're a
sport," says Lee Wakefield, who has run BYU's ballroom dance
sport program since 1980. Brigham Young is a collegiate dance
sport superpower, with nine competitors on full scholarships. "I
know a lot of people are hitting their heads against the wall
over this,'' says Wakefield, "but we're excited."
Detractors point to the bloated size of the modern Summer Games,
which will have more than 10,000 competitors in 1996, and bemoan
the prospect of adding ballroom dancing to the party. Let them
make room by throwing out synchronized swimming and rhythmic
gymnastics, two ridiculous activities. People forget that ice
dancing wasn't an Olympic sport until 1976, and within eight
years it had produced Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean, two of
the Winter Games' most memorable champions. Dance sport is ice
dancing on the hardwood.
Plus it's cheap, drug-free and politically correct, encouraging
equal participation by both sexes. Facilities can be found
everywhere, and the television ratings promise to be as strong
as they are for figure skating. So it's time for the curmudgeons
at the USOC to tone down the disparaging rhetoric and turn up
the sounds of samba. Sport, like everything else, must adapt to
the times. Now you'll have to excuse me.
One, two, cha-cha-cha ... three, four, cha-cha-cha.
The era of dance sport is upon us, and I intend to be ready when
they pass out the medals.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION:EVANGELOS VIGLIS [discus thrower in tuxedo dipping his dance partner]