What Should the Rules be for Same-Sex Couples in Mixed Couples Events


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When I competed at Boston Open this year, my partner and I kept one role throughout a dance. In Smooth, I led W and V and he led T and F, and in Rhythm I led C and M and he led R, Sw, and B. It was a conscious decision on our part to do so (having absolutely nothing to do with running out of practice time to figure out mid-dance transitions, nope, nothing at all), but it was nice to know that there was an option to put our mastery of the sport on display by being dancebidextrous within the same dance. If we want to opt for a partnership that displays a more mutual, egalitarian connection than leader-follower / suggester-finisher by showing that each of us can play either role, then we can do it. And that's great. This conversation can very easily head (and seems to be heading) towards a real investigation into the roots of ballroom dance and issues of gender and hierarchy, but to nip that in the bud, just speaking personally, switching roles helps contribute in my opinion and my dancing to an even more heightened connection between partners, and it's the partnership that's on display in any given round.

In terms of levels and switching roles, at the same-sex comps I've seen, it tends to be only the Open-level couples who opt to switch mid-dance. At the syllabus levels, especially in collegiate syllabus same-sex pairings, there's already enough of a headache of a usual-follower or usual-leader trying to adapt to the other role without adding that hubbub in.

In terms of mixed signals, I'm with @stash in that it can become pretty easy to lead-follow a transition with practice -- it's happened pretty organically whenever I social dance with another dudebro.

I love same-sex competition and have enjoyed participating in same-sex comps in the past, and I'm glad same-sex couples can dance in collegiate comps (and USA Dance if I'm reading this right). That said, I don't want them to be able to switch leads partway through a dance as it gives same-sex couples choreographic options that mixed-gender couples in traditional roles don't have.

That's assuming that those choreographic options give same-sex couples any kind of advantage. Again, if anything, it makes the same-sex couple's job more difficult, as it adds another layer of sensitivity and awareness to the partnership.

Or allow everyone to switch roles. The best solution would be to take gender out of the question entirely.
Or this. But again, the prescription isn't to *force* everyone to switch roles. It's just nice to have the option. If you don't get in anyone's way while doing it, I don't see the problem with allowing it to happen and letting the judges decide whether it's worth calling back or placing high/low.


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I think that's a key point. No one is making anyone do anything.

It's more of allowing new possibilities and redefining something that already exists to an extent. Does ballroom have to be ballroom with switching roles, no. Can it still be considered ballroom when role switching occurs (no matter when the role switching happens)? I think yes. It's still a partner dance, it still involves leading and following, you still have frame, and communication.

I would love to sit down with top level currently competing (or super recently retired) pros and see if the lines between leading and following in their partnership are as stark as we think they are. I get the sense the lines become more blurred the higher up you go, at least that's the sense I get from certain interviews.


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Daphna, can you come in and explain how/when/why you change roles during a waltz? And, is it required? Finally, do same sex couples dress more interchangeably (both wearing pants, for instance, or dresses) and why do you make these clothing choices…?


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Here is just one angle - in standard, it takes work to maintain a frame for a full dance. The way standard is normally danced in traditional competition, you get no break from holding that frame until the dance ends. If your frame sags and gets weak by the end of a dance (or in the last few dances in a multidance, for example), it will show badly on the floor.

Allowing couples (regardless of the gender combination) to switch roles mid-dance adds an option for the leader (for example) to switch to following when his/her arms get tired of holding a leader's frame. So there is a potential advantage here, in that there is a way to mask a weakness in the frame. Now being able to switch smoothly mid dance will require other skills that those not switching mid-dance don't need. But it is just an example that role switching mid-dance is not necessarily "neutral" in terms of advantages/disadvantages compared to other couples.

I am not arguing for or against - just pointing out some things to consider if rules are being drafted or discussed.

In collegiate, same sex couples (typically female leaders, I believe, due to a shortage of male leaders) compete in the same heats with everyone else. What exactly are they proposing for USA dance? Has anyone actually seen a rule, or is this all just a rumor???


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I am assuming while the arm switch happens, the back and the rest of the many points of connection are maintained. I don't see a huge relief coming from just switching your arms from one position to another. You are still using the same muscles to maintain frame.


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The responder has as much need for keeping frame as the leader...
I agree - which is why I said "for example". But the two frames use different muscles, and use them differently. So doing one for a bit, then the other, could be easier to maintain with good form, than sticking with one for the whole song. (Think of the quickstep on the third round... and how you can start to see which couples really have a solid frame at the end of that last song, and which don't.).

It is a bit like the difference between doing 10 sets of a particular weight exercise (bicep curl, squats, whatever), vs doing a few sets of that, then doing a few sets of something different, and then going back to it. I know it is not a perfect comparison. But if the muscles involved in maintaining frame are fatiguing, then having the option to switch and do something else for a bit could be an advantage.


Active Member
In collegiate, same sex couples (typically female leaders, I believe, due to a shortage of male leaders) compete in the same heats with everyone else. What exactly are they proposing for USA dance? Has anyone actually seen a rule, or is this all just a rumor???
Since both same sex and mixed sex couples compete on the floor at the same time, I think the rules should be the same for all those on the floor. If USA dance wants to give everyone the opportunity to switch roles mid dance, that's fine. But allowing one demographic of dancers to operate under rules that are not applicable to other dancers defeats the purpose of even-leveled competition. The rules should be the same for everyone.


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This is a really interesting thread, and I'm enjoying it... some well thought out arguments and positions here!

I think that role switching should not be allowed. Yes, an even playing field for all is important, and that is part of the reason I think that roles need to be defined... I am going to use myself as an example for the purposes of illustration, but you can sub any dancer in the same situation and it would work. For consideration:

I am a standard follower, normally. I can also lead in standard, though I do it rarely and infrequently. The dimension that gets added however, is that while I comfortable following all syllabus figures and some open stuff, I am only comfortable leading bronze figures. While some of the technique that has evolved from my work as a follower does show up when I lead (like balance and use of my feet), making me further along the learning curve than a beginner, I am nowhere near as advanced as a lead. I would have no business competing as a lead on a standard floor at a level higher than bronze (not only do I not know the figures, my navigation abilities would be severely lacking and likely cause problems on a higher-level floor). If I entered as part of a same sex couple competing in a traditional USA dance event, in bronze, then switched mid-dance or round to a followers role, well, I don't feel like that would be entirely fair.

I have the impression that it would be exceedingly rare to have someone that was of a roughly equivalent level in both roles, at least in syllabus. (I could see it in open where the dancers are more likely to teach.) For that reason, I am against role-switching... for those same-sex couples that are of equivalent level and want to show it off, the same-sex comps exist and are designed to allow that. I am completely supportive of allowing same-sex couples to compete alongside mixed-gender couples, but I'd like to see them conform to the same rules.


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I admit to being a bit torn on this one. I mean, I haven't had a chance to watch much same-sex ballroom dancing, but I don't doubt that well-executed lead changes can be really cool and innovative. And I suspect that even with it being allowed for all couples (I've seen mixed-gender couples do it for latin already, albeit usually for comedic effect), same-gender couples would have an inherent advantage at it due to the different aesthetic.

On the other hand, it seems to me that "different aesthetic" is not an unmitigated blessing in this sport. I mean, I'd like to think that we, as a whole, are enlightened enough that judges wouldn't be slow to mark same-sex couples because gosh, that's icky. But I cannot help but suspect that there would be a sizeable contingent who would tend to be drawn to the more traditional couples because they're more traditional. Consider, for example, the number of people here (albeit not judges) who have commented on how much they don't care for the direction standard has gone on the WDSF side of things.

I will say thought that I'm generally in favor of requiring a clearly defined leader in the syllabus ranks. While I'm pretty sure that poorly executed lead changes would be the exact opposite of cool and innovative, I'm also inclined to think that there's already quite enough lousy floorcraft in those levels. No need to do things that would likely exacerbate that.


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Gosh, I have enough trouble keeping which hand needs to be offered in frame and which direction to go when leading and following on the same day. I can't imagine switching during the dance. I suppose if same sex was a couples primary dance arrangement it would be doable ( and I guess I don't really care if they do it or not) but I can't see the majority of collegiate same sex couples ( mostly two females because of make shortages) even thinking about it


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Here's a question: would any of you in favor of allowing role switching be suggesting adding role switching to mixed-sex events if you were not also admitting same-sex couples to mixed-sex events? (yes, I realize this has been done in show dances before, but they are show dances for a reason)


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Would I have thought of it out of the blue on my own, probably not. I have way to many other ideas floating in my head about my own career then to try to think of "innovations" for my hobby.

But having seen this topic come up many times, I think I would/I have thought about it in the context of mixed-couples only. I don't see why it can't or shouldn't be at least discussed. I mean to earn your medal tests you must be proficient in both leadin and following figures. And coming from a very limited teach background, I do feel more solid in the figures that I know both part of than just the followers side.

I think it could be a cool idea to start exploring more of. Not just in the same-sex world of ballroom either.
To me, all this stuff is just a matter of how "competitive grouping" is arranged, and
what the underlying intent is. Mixed- verses same- sex, role switching, etc., is no
different from age grouping, gender-based (particularly pro-AM) grouping, etc..
These groupings were usually created for a level-playing field, for instance, so that
60-yos didn't have to compete against 20-yos on the "same" basis. Similarly,
things like syllabus restrictions, etc., cater to the notion of level-playing.

What is the reason that same-sex or role-switching is being considered to be
grouped with the traditional male-lead, female-follow group? Is it to help
gender imbalance? Is it for a social commentary to show that partner dancing is
cool and hip, and accommodating of all persuations? Is it to inject more
excitement/changes in an otherwise ho-hum activity?

In establishing these groupings, it seems people are not considering some major
issues. There are many gender-related physical/mental/emotional/sensitivity/etc.
abilities that directly relate to leading/following (in a statistical sense). Also,
what are the costuming rules/restrictions related to lead/follow? It's much easier
for the lead with 1/2 inch wide heels to dance with the follow with 3-inch tiny
heels than the other way around. Should Ballroom be done such that both
partners wear pants (or skirts) and unisex attire? There is the artistic/aesthetic
issue in partner dancing, a lot of which is related to costuming/presentation.
Partner dancing has always had this notion of "masculine" verses "feminine"
roles; should this be abandoned?

In some comps (_not_ all) I've watched, where same-sex couples "won," I have to
believe the judges handicapped the "regular" couples (or used a higher judging
criteria), as the leading/following was simply not as crisp/solid with the same-sex
couples (probably because the leaders didn't do it all the time, and often because
the advantage of lead/follow weight-difference wasn't there). Perhaps the
judges just tried to encourage the same-sex participation, but confusing judging
criteria is not a good thing.

When DWTS has 70-yos dancing against 20-yos, do people really believe they
can be compare on the same basis?

Unless under-participation is an issue, where wider-grouping would be needed,
I think it's better to just have different categories so that the level-playing
field (although we know this is really not achievable) has a chance of prevailing.


Active Member
In some comps (_not_ all) I've watched, where same-sex couples "won," I have to
believe the judges handicapped the "regular" couples (or used a higher judging
criteria), as the leading/following was simply not as crisp/solid with the same-sex
couples (probably because the leaders didn't do it all the time, and often because
the advantage of lead/follow weight-difference wasn't there). Perhaps the
judges just tried to encourage the same-sex participation, but confusing judging
criteria is not a good thing.
I'm going to respectfully disagree with you here, based on my experience as a follow who has led at the collegiate level. I never felt like I was getting judged differently. This is at a bronze/newcomer level, but I never felt put off or like I was being held to a lower standard. At least in the lower levels, being a follow first at a higher level gave me an advantage to leading as a newcomer. My hip action in rhythm was already half there, especially compared to the newcomer leads. In smooth, I already knew how to count and feel all of the dances (I had even more advantage having been a tuba player so finding the beat is super easy). When dancing with follows who had been doing it for a few months, I did better than when dancing with a total newcomer. Same as a "true" newcomer couple.

I've actually been told that at some comps, the judges actually only judge the follow in a same sex couple since it's assumed the lead is dancing down so their technique will be higher than that of people dancing in that level.


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Based on the NCDC thread, there *are* areas where the gender balance is a real concern. (e.g., college teams with vastly more ladies than gents) There are references in that thread to ladies who would dance with a female lead or not at all. And speaking as a pro-am student lead, I'm sympathetic to the idea of not wanting to get stuck in a less competitive field. I mean, pro-am student lead vs pro-am student follow is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison too, but dang it's rough having few to no other couples in your event when the equivalent ladies heat has a nice-sized, competitive field. I have to think that wanting to participate in more competitive events is a good bit of why same-sex couples would want to compete in the same field as the mixed-sex couples.

None of which, of course, is an argument against having a single set of rules for all the couples in those fields. Quite the opposite, really.

Mr 4 styles

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Far cry from a rules change but good to know .how many same sex events like the Boston open are there now. Checked out the website and the comp looked very comprehensive. Excellent

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