Raising questions about the “Amateur” category in the competitive ballroom dance world today By Denys Drozdyuk

The term Amateur as it is used in today’s competitive ballroom dancing is misleading, mismatched, and somewhat harmful to the dancers themselves. The way that the word “Amateur” is perceived by the dancesport industry is not the way that it is perceived by the outside world. This mismatch in perception raises problems, questions, and concerns.

Today’s Amateur category in competitive Ballroom Dancing is not really Amateur

In fact, it is not Amateur at all. The Amateurs are spending an equal amount of time, money, resources, energy, and dedication into their dancing as Professionals in the Professional category.

Could one say that today’s Amateurs are not earning money from their dancing? That would be a lie, since most of today’s Amateurs teach, perform shows, attend dinner and tea dances, and do other revenue related activities. The dancers discussed here are those attending, preparing, and planning to attend such events as either WDC World Open Amateur Championships in Paris, Blackpool, UK Open, etc., or those attending and competing in WDSF Amateur World Latin Championships or other events of a similar caliber. One cannot truly mean that those dancers competing in such events are Amateurs?┬áIf someone were to say that Olympic Athletes are Amateurs, then that would not be true, as the Olympic Committee long ago permitted Professional Athletes to take part in the Olympic Games.

The word Amateur refers to an activity in which a person engages as a pastime, and not as a main profession

This is how the outside world perceives the Amateur category. But the insider knows that Amateurs are in fact “young” professionals.

The Amateur category came traditionally after Youth and before Professional categories. So in reality, it refers to a group of competitive dancers who are above 18 and below 30. These numbers are of course averages and there are many young professionals. But that is not the point discussed here. So the the ballroom dance industry insiders perceive the “Amateur” category to be a more or less an age related category, while the outside world considers it to be a category full of unskilled and unprofessional dancers. If for no other reason, then this mismatch of perceptions alone should serve as a reason enough for the governing bodies of both federations to re-examine the term “Amateur”.

But why bother one might ask?

Well there are numerous reasons. First one is the legal argument. When dancers who are in a pursuit of a Work Visa try to prove their worth to a foreign government, they naturally state their competitive results. The fact that one has been a champion in an Amateur category for many years does not really prove to any government official that one commands great skill or possesses great talent. So even if one were to put down “World Amateur Champion” title in the Visa application, the outside world, and especially the government, does not see much value in this achievement. But for the world champion dancer who spent so much energy, time, and money in order to win this title, this is not a pleasant situation.

The second reason is that there is just no point in having two categories where dancers are professionals and there is nothing that really differentiates them. If there was no “Amateur” category, then everybody would have to dance professionally. This of course reduces the number of “achievements” that dancers could have. Instead of claiming a title of World Amateur Champion, they would have to work harder and compete against more couples in the Professional category. So instead of having let’s say 2 World Championship Titles (1 as an Amateur and 1 as a Professional), dancers would be able to have only 1 Title and only in the Professional category. But one could argue that it is unfair for someone who is 23 years old to compete against someone who is 34 years old. The first question one could ask is: “why is it unfair?” or “is it really unfair?” In sports, the 23 year old would be considered to have an advantage over the 34 year old athlete. So there is really no unfairness in this case. But if one were to insist and argue that artistic qualities take years to develop and that mature dancing looks better, then one could create Professionals (under 30) and Professionals (over 30) category or something along those lines. Could Professionals over 30 gain a reputation for being Professional Seniors? Well, either that, or they could gain a reputation for being exquisite and mature artists. The trend could either way really, it all depends on the dancers themselves and their vision.

A completely different solution to the problem could be to ensure that all current dancers who are truly Professionals do in fact switch to the Professional category. For this to occur on a global level, all the major competition organizers would need to remove “Amateur” competitions from the prestigious events such as Blackpool Dance Festival, International, UK Open, and other major competitions. A mass migration of dancers from one category to another could only happen under a certain rule from the governing body, otherwise there will always be those “sneaky” few who will be waiting to snatch the “World Championship Title” in the absence of their migrating competition. The category would need to be devalued on the insider level as well. Dancers would need to be educated that “Amateur” category is for those who pursue dance as a hobby; perhaps University students, doctors, lawyers, business people, and other professionals, who are just fond of dance competitions.

So as it seems, two solutions are possible

  • The first would be to change the archaic and mismatched category of “Amateurs” to something that represents and describes the dancers more fairly, properly, and with honor.
  • And the second solution could be to create a new provision as well as a new trend for the dancers who are really Professional to switch to Professional category.
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