Written by Wallis Allen
Image courtesy of the BBC
If the hyperbolic tone of some of these complaints were an accurate representation of what was happening in society you’d imagine that Pride parades cruise down our streets every day and we are expected to repent in the name of Ru Paul. Yet, all that has happened is that Nicola Adams, Olympic champion and undefeated flyweight Boxer, has been paired with professional dancer, Katya Jones on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. A show about seeing which untrained celebrity can come the furthest in Ballroom and Latin practice to win the glitterball trophy; although I suppose you could be forgiven for thinking it’s about which celebrity can seduce a professional dancer the fastest. Although I don’t think that’s what viewers complain about.
Before the couples had even taken to the floor for the first night, BBC were hit with over 100 complaints regarding 2 women daring to dance together. One disgruntled viewer said they were “boycotting” the show as they had “never heard anything so ridiculous as same-sex dancing” Boo hoo, I think I can hear Claudia Winkleman weeping.
Potentially I could entertain the possibility that some viewers might not understand why the tradition of a man dancing with a woman needs to be disturbed. Why should Nicola Adams dance with a woman? Because she’s a lesbian? Why should she dance with a woman – you shouldn’t fancy your partner (*hem hem Strictly Curse*) – so shouldn’t she just follow tradition and dance with a man? Looking further into why those traditions were established in the first place is helpful at explaining why it really does not matter that Adams is dancing same sex.
The entire point is that it is about performance; about acting. The convention of male and female partnerships stems from traditional gender roles. The leader in the dance is the masculine role, the dominant one in the partnership who is in control and as such typically a man. The follower is more passive within the dance, being able to read the subtle movements of the leader’s body and moving where they direct the dance, often doing more flourishing, elegant and dainty steps within a routine. Typically, these are feminine qualities and therefore danced by a woman. It might seem old fashioned in black and white, but there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Yet this very convention is why it is also not inherently wrong for Adams to be partnered with a woman. The Guardian reported Adams will most likely be dancing the leader steps and dressing in suits, quoting Adams saying, “dresses aren’t my thing”. One way of interpreting this then is that Adams will be taking on the leader role, stepping into the traditional masculine element of the dance because that is where she sees herself being most comfortable and performing her best while Jones reprises her usual role as follower. Sexuality therefore is not the major contributor here necessarily; it’s about what role of the dance Adams sees herself fitting best. She happens to see herself as playing the leader role best. So let her do so.
I danced as a beginner on the university Ballroom and Latin dance circuit. At those competition days there was a whole category for same sex partnerships. In the vast majority of cases this was because there weren’t enough male dancers to go around, far more women join this society at university than men (which is unfortunate and I would urge any man looking for a new hobby to give it a go) but sometimes women took up leader because they preferred to. As such there were straight women dancing together but also: gay men dancing with women, gay women dancing with women, bisexual women dancing with men and straight men and women dancing together. Basically, sexuality is not the defining aspect of who you partner with.
Despite saying that sexuality isn’t necessarily the defining feature of a same sex partnership (although I’m sure it might make it easier when channelling romantic energy for the more sensual dances) it won’t hurt for there to be more LGBTQ+ representation on screen. As Adams says herself “It’s always nice to be able to see somebody that you can relate to,”. When Adams and Jones take the floor and perform the dances that communicate moods of love and sexual connection, they will depict a strong gay relationship which is something that remains lacking on prime-time television. Ultimately (and once again as Adams has said herself) it isn’t really a big deal. Adams steps into the role she feels she will dance the best; her partner dances the role she usually does; the conventions of the dance remain the same; there is a wider representation within the constraints of a prime time family tv show. I fail to see how you can’t see this as a win-win. Personally, I hope she wins the whole show.