The British Dance Council is to consider proposals that would define a dance partnership as having to consist between a man and "a lady" on 21 July, just before a major competition in Bournemouth. If it is passed, it will ban same-sex couples from mainstream contests, regulating them to same-sex-only categories.
A change in the rules would see John Church and his partner Alex Lewall unable to defend their UK Closed Championship, over-35 pre-championship category title at the next championships at the end of the month. The pair are also currently ahead of 135 mixed-gender couples at the top of the national league in their over-35 pre-championship category.
"It's a totally regressive step and as far as we are concerned it would be the end of our dancing careers," said Church, who has been dancing with Lewalle for the past four years. "We don't want to be trailblazers, we aren't asking for special treatment, we just want to dance and to be judged solely on our dancing – not what sex we are." The pair, who are both gay but not in a relationship with each other, are a striking partnership, standing at 6'4" and 6'2" respectively in their traditional tails and bow tie.
"The first time people see us dance, it does look a bit strange, but soon we are judged for our dancing, not our gender," said Church. "We have had so much support from other dancers, organisers, judges – when Alex and I won our category last year we were given a standing ovation. I think this objection is coming from a minority, but sadly they do get heard."
Same-sex dancing couples would be banned if a change to the rules – which has been proposed by the BDC rules committee – is approved by the board of directors on 21 July. The rules would, if passed, state: "This council recognises a partnership to be one man and one lady in all adult amateur and professional competitions and championships unless otherwise stated." The British Dance Council's president, Bryan Allen, said in a letter to members that the rules should "take into consideration the feelings of the competitors, the physical strength and stamina of a same-sex couple who might be included in a competition".
He told the Guardian that the BDC had received "many more letters of support for the change than against". The change in the rules was not discriminatory and would not result in a ban on same-sex couples, he said, but mean there would be a category which was only open to mixed couples. "People are disgruntled because they say while there is a same-sex-only category there is no mixed-only category – and I can see a basis in that claim," he said. "They can also claim that two men are physically stronger: for example, you wouldn't have two men playing in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon."
But the rationale was dismissed by Church. "Dancing isn't about power, it's about technique, positioning, poise, presentation – physical strength doesn't come into it," he said.