The conventions of ballroom dance can be paralleled to gender and sexuality norms that have existed for centuries. Gary Woods – the first student of Dance Dance with Hot to Foxtrot – has been instrumental in altering the rules of ballroom dance and thus the perception of sexuality.
In 1999 I read an article in Sydney Star Observer about the Gay Games coming to Sydney in 2002. Ballroom dance was a featured sport in the event and presented me with an opportunity to represent my country – something I couldn’t turn away from.
I started attending (straight) dance classes but soon realised that I was never going to find a partner there. I stumbled across an ad for same-sex dance classes in Randwick: Dance Dance with Hot to Foxtrot was holding classes every Sunday afternoon. That Sunday I turned up, eager and willing, but stood alone in a large and seemingly unfriendly studio.
Virginia, the teacher, and her partner Ruth were not fazed by the lack of interest from the public. They knew it was only a matter of time before more students would turn up, and were happy to give me what amounted to private classes until that time arrived. I could not have asked for a better beginning – they were a fun couple, lovely dancers, and patient with their first beginner.
Did I want to lead or follow, Virginia asked. I thought about it briefly: I was a bloke and so I’d always led on the dancefloor. But upon second thought, so did all other men; maybe I had a better chance of finding a partner if I could follow. And anyway, this was a same-sex class; what was the point of following the norm? I decided not to take the lead.
For about three weeks, before the other students started to trickle in, Ruth did her best to steer me around the dancefloor (despite being a good foot shorter than me). Virginia guided me in the basic steps and rhythms of the cha cha, waltz, samba and quickstep. I was hooked from that moment on.
Gradually the classes grew in size, and finally a few men began turning up. The class soon held lesbians, gay men, and even a couple of straight women. What held us together was a love of dance and an eagerness to learn.
As time passed, and the Gay Games got closer, the intensity increased. The principal of the Randwick School, Phillip Logan, started workshops to finesse techniques. People began to form partnerships; some were already life partners but some just teamed up for the chance to do something extraordinary, dance for Australia at Sydney Town Hall in front of thousands of LGBT people from all over the globe.
George Bernard Shaw – leading figure of 20th century theatre – described dancing as “the vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalised by music”. What better way to express one’s sexuality than to dance with a partner of the same sex in front of the world?
I never did find a partner for the Gay Games. There was Patrick, briefly, but his work commitments finally forced him to give it up six months out from the Games. Eventually that didn’t matter. I realised that the dance classes were an end in themselves – great exercise, good fun and the perfect excuse to get my hands on some gorgeous men.
I assisted with the dance event at the Gay Games. It was nothing short of brilliant. Volunteering gave me the opportunity to attend and be immersed in four glittering days. Even before the last day, word had spread and gay men and women were packing into the Town Hall for what was finally a sell-out event.
Six years later, I’m still turning up on Sunday afternoons for my weekly fix. Sadly, we very unexpectedly lost Phillip Logan a few years back, but the spirit of the school has continued to run strong.
David Rooney has joined Virginia to keep the classes bouncing along, and new men and women continue to find their way up the stairs, following the music, to join in the fun and shake off the cares of their world, if only for an hour or two.
I’ve found dance partners, and lost them; I’ve competed in local events, had my share of medals, thrills and spills, terror and joy. What has kept me coming back is the amazing feeling of wellbeing that comes from throwing yourself around a dancefloor in the arms of another without the prejudices and stereotypes of gender binaries that have plagued and restricted our community … until now!
Dance Dance with Hot to Foxtrot presents Same Sex Dance Spectacular Saturday 23 February, 5pm-11pm, at Botany RSL Club. Details at www.users.bigpond.net.au/dance/samesexspectacular.htm.
As told to Andre Rangiah