Why Isn't DanceSport an Olympic Sport?

Why Isn't DanceSport an Olympic Sport?
Photo: Ryan Kenner
By Storms Reback

Many in the competitive ballroom dancing world dream of the day when the world's best dancers get to compete in the Olympics. Although it hasn't happened yet, it's certainly not for a lack of trying. 

For years, ballroom dancing's principal governing body, the International Council of Amateur Dancers (ICAD), embraced an isolationist policy that kept it removed from the traditional sports world. A big first step toward global recognition as a sport (and possible inclusion in the Olympics) came when the organization devised the term "DanceSport" as a way of legitimizing ballroom dancing as an athletic endeavor. To that end, the ICAD also changed its name to the International DanceSport Federation (IDSF) in 1990, which further tweaked its name to the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) in 2011.

One of the more important moments in ballroom dancing's quest to become an Olympic sport came in 1995, when the IDSF was officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the representative body for DanceSport and DanceSport became eligible to be included in the Olympic Program. An essential part of the IDSF's mission was campaigning to bring DanceSport to the Olympics, but subsequent efforts to get it included have all failed.

The IOC considers a variety of factors when considering the addition of a new sport, including the sport's history and popularity, but one of the most important is the objectivity of its scoring system, so those hoping to see DanceSport get recognized by the IOC cheered in 2013 when WDSF competitions adopted Judging System 2.0, a new scoring system based on figure skating's system. 

DanceSport's possible inclusion in the 2016 Olympics was given a further glimmer of hope in December 2014, when the IOC scrapped its policy of limiting the number of Summer Olympic sports to 28 and requiring one event to be dropped for every one added, but DanceSport failed to make the cut that year as well.

Those who believe DanceSport shouldn't be included in the Olympics usually question whether it's more of sport or a performance art, whether it can be fairly and easily judged, and whether its many genres and techniques can be represented in a single medal event.

Those who believe the opposite emphasize the many ingredients that make ballroom dancing a perfect Olympic sport, namely its gender parity, its established world-wide television audience, the freedom from doping it's enjoyed, and the facility of finding suitable venues for it.  

Many feel that WDSF's Vision 2020 campaign, which is to "bring DanceSport to the next level and to make WDSF compliant with the highest standards in governance," was a not-so-subtle reference to its desire to be included in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, but, despite the Change.org petition to have the sport included, when the list of new Olympic sports was announced in August 2016, DanceSport wasn't on it.

DanceSport still has an outside shot at being named an exhibition sport in 2024 and a medal sport in 2028, but to do so will require more than a Facebook page promoting the effort. It will require money, organization, and a sustained effort on the part of the ballroom dancing community. Since it's been doing precisely that for nearly three decades now, it's fair to wonder what more it can possibly do.
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