It Takes Two Men to Tango

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Why you should care

In this crazy, judgmental world, dancing should be one place where anything goes.

You can dance with whomever you like, sure. But if you want to compete with a same-sex partner to show you’re the best at it, good luck! Turns out that “one man and one woman” doesn’t just apply to some marriage doctrines. Most traditional dance competitions define a dance couple with that exact phrase.

Thirteen years ago in Oakland, California, some dancers bucked that trend. Richard Lamberty started April Follies — the longest-running, same-sex ballroom dance competition in North America. Same-sex dance competitions are more popular in Europe — there will be 14 sanctioned events this year — where they’ve existed for more than 30 years. As Barbara Zoloth, the main producer of April Follies, puts it, “Europe is the epicenter of same-sex [dancing], because it’s also the epicenter of dance.” But interest in the U.S. is growing. There will be five same-sex competitions in the U.S. this year, and April Follies has grown from about 50 contestants in 2003 to 115 this year.

Ron Jenkins and Photis Pishiaras danced in their sixth April Follies this year. And though Robert Frost once said that dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire, this isn’t necessarily about sexual preference, says Jenkins. The two men are not a couple — they simply enjoy dancing together. Sometimes a man just wants to dance with a man, or a woman wants to lead another woman. It’s beautiful — and not uncommon — to see a same-sex couple switch lead and follow roles mid-dance, something you won’t see with traditional couples. April Follies also allows couples who dance with reversed roles — woman lead and man follow — and welcomes the transgender community. “It’s all mix and match,” says Pishiaras.

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