Open Mixed Division

I fully recognize I am probably about to open a can of worms, and bring up potentially controversial issues.

I want to start by saying this is only the result of my own late night insomniac thinking, and none of the examples used are of people or situations I actually know.  They are all hypothetical.  I also recognize that as only a pro/am student, there are perhaps elements of both the professional and amateur world which I do not know.

One of the triggering things for this is the recent announcement that in 2018 Blackpool will hold a separate Teacher/Student division where ‘amateur’ teachers can dance with their students.  This is separate from Pro/Am where ‘professional’ teachers dance with their students.

This announcement is interesting, because according to the British Dance Council Rulebook:


Loss of Amateur Status

(a) A competitor’s amateur status will be deemed lost if:

i. accepts remuneration in cash for the use of their name as a dancer in an advertisement;

ii. declares themselves to be a professional;

iii. passes a teaching entrance examination of any of the ballroom branches of an examining teacher organisation;

iv. acts as a teacher of dancing, with or without a fee, unless under the supervision of a qualified professional;

v. organises dances for personal profit;

vi. participates in a competition or match limited to professionals;

vii. acts as an MC for the purpose of leading dances or calling sets.

viii. adjudicates at a dancing competition

I do note this rule book is scheduled to be amended in January 2018, so perhaps points i, iii, and iv (or others) will be amended.

I want to point out that these are the British rules only.  I know that in the US, from discussions I have seen on forums the only way to be considered a professional is item ii.  In Canada, under Canada Dancesport Rules, amateurs who have achieved specific placings (I think top 3 in the Canadian Closed) may teach provided they pass appropriate exams, don’t charge over a certain amount per lesson, and report all earning from teaching to the CDS (there are other conditions, but those are the main ones).

So, what is my point? And why is it potentially controversial?

It just seems to me that the dance world is really starting to ‘split hairs’ when it comes to the number of different divisions and eligibility required for them, especially when talking about the open level (as a point of note, Blackpool only offers open level events).  There is a lot of dividing going on, at least on paper, in what appears to be an effort to maintain integrity of the words ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ (although as said above, I recognize this is very simplified).  There are so many different ‘statuses’ of couples competing right now, but are they, and their level of dance really that different?

Usually, when the average person thinks ‘professional’ they think of someone who makes their living by that trade.  In dance, someone who teaches and performs for compensation, and an ‘amateur’ is someone for whom dancing is done purely for the enjoyment of doing it without compensation (and usually paying to do it).

In the dance world, at least in the US as a prime example, this is not the case.  Whether you are an amateur or professional is based solely on what you want to call yourself and what division you would like to compete in.  One does not automatically imply by the title they are better dancers than the other.  In fact, looking just at the number of former amateurs who seem to automatically go to the semi or even final of the pro division, it would imply the level of dancing is fairly even–which begs the question why are there so many divisions?

Let’s break down some of the divisions:

  1. Professional – couple consisting of two partners registered as professionals.  Most likely both teach.
  2. Pro/Am – couple consisting of a teacher registered as a professional dancing with an amateur student who does no teaching whatsoever.
  3. Teacher/Student – couple consisting of a teacher registered as an amateur dancing with an amateur student who does no teaching whatsoever.
  4. Mixed Amateur – (presumably does not apply to open events) a couple consisting of a higher level amateur dancing with a lower level amateur.  eg. an open amateur competing with a silver amateur.  ( I believe only the lower level partner is judged, and the higher amateur does not teach the lower, but may teach others).
  5. Student/Student – (again, does not seem to apply to open events) a mixed amateur couple consisting of two pro/am students. (I admit to not being very familiar with this division, so could be wrong).
  6. Amateur/Amateur – two partners registered as amateurs competing together. One or both of the partners may teach, or neither may teach.

Numbers 2-5 have a further breakdown by age, usually adult (16-35), senior I (36-50), senior II (51+). Some have further divisions.  There are the odd ‘senior’ professional events, but not very common. For the purpose of this discussion, I am going to focus on types 1, 2, 3, and 6.

Currently, all 4 of these couples are unable to compete directly against each other.  The competitive events are completely separate.  Pro/ams do not compete with teacher/student, and pro couples don’t compete with amateur couples.  From what I have seen in some forums, the reason is (or used to be) that it was felt unfair to mix competitors of different statuses.  That amateur couples would be unfairly outclassed by professional couples and that pro/am couples would upstage teacher/student couples.

Personally, I am not seeing this to be the case, and I have seen many arguments that the quality of amateur couples are equal, if not better than professionals.  I think all divisions have both strong, medium and weak couples.  In the end, regardless of status, it is two people dancing on the floor.

A thought that occurred to me though–what stops a teacher/student couple from competing in am/am events?

Consider this. An Amateur teacher is aged 42.  He is no longer competing as an amateur because his partner decided not to continue dance.  Lacking a steady partner, he sees not reason to declare ‘professional’ status, but does compete with his students in the teacher/student division.  However, he has 3 open-level students aged 36, 41, and 48, who all want to go to the same competition and compete in the multi-dance/scholarship events. He cannot compete with more than one student in the same event.  He can compete with the youngest student in the ‘A’ (under 35) event (as it is possible to dance down an age), but only one of his other two students can do the ‘B’ (36-50) event.  Neither student is willing to give up the opportunity for the other.  So, since he is 42, he registers the 3rd student in the senior I amateur event, as both qualify for that age category, and both are amateurs.

Is there anything to prevent this?  I haven’t seen anything on it, but in order to compete in teacher/student as the ‘teacher’ do you have to be also compete with a dedicated amateur partner?  It doesn’t appear to be a necessity, just is the general practice.

When I think of amateur competitions, it occurs to me that there are at least 3 types of couples competing on the floor–couples where neither partner teaches, where one partner teaches, and where both partners teach. Does one type of couple have an advantage over the others on the floor? On the surface it doesn’t seem to.

So, after laying out all this, I can see a case for a new division–mixed open–where the only eligibility is that both partners meet the age requirements, regardless of individual status (pro, am, student).  In this division (let’s use senior I for an example), all open level, there could be pro couples, am couples, pro/am couples and teacher/student couples all competing against each other, provided every individual on the floor was over 35. It would certainly recognize that as much as the dance world is trying to keep all these divisions separate, the lines between them are blurred and there is less of a distinction in level.

But could you imagine the fall-out if an am couple were placed above a pro couple, or if a pro/am couple was placed above and am couple?  What if a teacher/student couple won the event?

I think these questions and potential fall-out are exactly why this mixed open division does not exist and likely never will.  It’s not unheard of in other sports though–think of hockey where both professional and amateur players compete together in the olympics, similarly with basketball.

I want to be clear, I am not advocating for one or the other, or that we get rid of any of the current divisions.  Sheer variety of couples will mean that other separate events will need to be continued–most pro/am couples have large age differences between the teacher and student, for example, and a mixed open division would only be possible for open events.  Certainly not syllabus.

But to me, it’s an interesting question to ask.  Would there be an unfair advantage for one type of couple over the other if this event existed? Would that be negated by knowing what you are registering for (if you know you are registering for an event with a mixed variety of couples, can you then complain the pro couple had an advantage?  I think not–its what you signed up for).

I would love to hear the thoughts of others on this.  As I said, most of this is just some logical reasoning and thought processes generated from the recent announcement of including not only pro/am, but a separate teacher/student event at Blackpool.  I guess the main question that popped to my mind was–why are these separate events?

Perhaps that is just an uncomfortable question that shouldn’t be asked.

But I did anyway.

Feel free to share and give opinions–just please be respectful.