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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dancers Sprint for Olympic Gold




While competitive ballroom dancing traditionally evokes images of fake tans, sequins and clouds of hairspray, it has begun to inspire visions of gold for some.


If the Moscow-based Dance Initiative group has its way, Russian dancers could soon be raking in the medals when ballroom dancing becomes an Olympic event.


Though sports traditionalists scoff at the concept of competitive ballroom dancing -- or "dancesport" as it has come to be called -- being raised to Olympian heights, steps toward that goal were made recently.


Dance Initiative held a dance exhibition last weekend designed to coincide with Moscow's City Day celebrations and to launch a fund-raising drive for the construction of a proposed $26 million Master-Dance training and teaching center.


Dance Initiative Vice President Polina Komissarova, at age 20 a competitive dancer herself, argued the necessity of such a center, saying Russia emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union ill prepared for the rise of dance as a sport.


"In the mid-'80s when the borders were opened, there was impetus to the development of the sport," she said, "but unfortunately because most Russian dancers were self-taught, using xeroxed copies of dance steps, they weren't very competitive."


Russians have since proved adept at competition dance, which falls into two categories: the European styles including the waltz, slow waltz, foxtrot, tango and quick step, and the Latin styles of samba, rhumba, cha-cha, pasa and jive.


But Komissarova contends that without a proper facility dancers will continue to train and dance abroad, stunting the growth of a homegrown Olympic program.


The Russians say they have reason for concern because Olympic status might not be far off. Last September the International Olympic Committee granted official recognition to the International Dance Sport Federation governing body. The IDSF must now proceed to argue its case for the acceptance of dancesport as a medal sport. IDSF President Rudy Bauman said dancesport could realistically appear at the 2008 summer Olympics, and it may be named a demonstration sport at the 2000 Games in Sydney.


To promote its cause, the IDSF has entered into a joint-venture deal with International Management Group, famous for developing Wimbledon tennis tournament into the global, multimillion-dollar event it is today.


Jim Frazer, president of the Canadian Amateur Dancesport Association, said dancesport's case before the IOC will be helped by two facts: that men and women compete in pairs on an equal basis and that dancesport is "telegenic."


"Beach volleyball is an Olympic sport because it's telegenic, it looks good on television," he said. "And how about ice dancing, now that looks good on TV, and oddly enough, people are riveted to watching bobsledding."


Watchable or not, Clive Ellis, a sports editor at the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London, said Olympic dancesport would cause problems.


"I think I'd resign," he said. "I can't imagine asking, 'OK, who wants to cover ballroom dancing?'"


Seeking to change public opinion, Dance Initiative staged a glitzy exhibition Saturday in the Atrium of the Baltschug Kempinski Hotel. Guests, including members of the Moscow city government, which helped fund the event, sipped champagne and watched a colorful display by dancers, ranging from 14-year-old Alexander Shepelyev to British champions Bryan Watson and Karen Hardy.


Yes, the pair were tanned to a buttery glow and wore sequined outfits, but in showing off their rhumba and cha-cha prowess they also provoked a standing ovation from the enthusiastic audience.


"Bryan and I are professionals," Hardy said. "Obviously we want professionals to be represented at the Olympics, but between amateurs and professionals we just hope that dancing gets the attention it deserves."


Watson had words of encouragement for the would-be Olympians in the crowd.


"When I began dancing as a 5-year-old in South Africa, all the ladies' skirts used to hit me in the face." he said. "But you grow up and you get better, so stick with it."