The USA’s Protections for DanceSport Athletes and Officials

I have been following some of the commentary that has arisen on social media since USA Dance sent a cease and desist letter to the NDCA on January 7, 2015 regarding the NDCA’s disciplining/fining of officials who adjudicate or officiate at USA Dance competitions. It is not my intent today to comment on that action, but rather to discuss how the U.S. Amateur Sports Act came into being, as I believe this discussion may throw some light on the current dispute.

Prior to 1978, Olympic Trials in the U.S., in which athletes qualified for a place on the Olympic team, were conducted to a large degree by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Arbitrary eligibility rules in Track and Field resulted in the banning of athletes. The result was that athletes were being denied the opportunity to widely compete, which compromised their standing when they went abroad to represent the U.S. Things got so bad that finally Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) sponsored legislation entitled the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, that established the USOC and henceforth required that all Olympic Trials be held under the supervision of the USOC, with the AAU relegated to managing youth athletics. This legislation also provided for a grievance process for athletes and officials as outlined in the USOC Constitution. The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act passed both Houses of Congress and was signed into law by the President in 1978.

In 2011 and 2012, the WDSF was taking steps to suspend athletes and officials who competed outside the WDSF. At my request, the USOC provided me, as national president of USA Dance, with a letter to take to the 2012 WDSF Annual General Assembly in Berlin. In part the letter emphasized three main points:

“First, the USOC is a recognized National Olympic Committee (NOC) member of the International Olympic Committee (lOC). As such, the USOC and its member National Governing Bodies (NGBs), including USA Dance, are obliged to comply with the Olympic Charter. The Olympic Charter recognizes certain fundamental rights of athletes, one of which pertains to the opportunity of an athlete to participate in sport. As stated in the Charter, Fundamental Principles of Olympism, Paragraph 4, “[t]he practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport … which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” Suspending athletes for competing in athletic competitions for no other reason than the competitions are sponsored by a competing organization, is in the view of the USOC, a violation of the Olympic Charter.”

“Second, the USOC, and its NGBs, including USA Dance, must abide by US law, which protects an athlete’s right to compete pursuant to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act (the “Act”). This protection is specifically set forth in Sections 220503(8) and 220524(5) of the Act. Specifically, Section 220503(8) places an obligation on the USOC, and on NGBs, including USA Dance, to protect an athlete’ s opportunity to participate in athletic competition.”

“Third, as a matter of fair play, an athlete’s right to compete should not be abridged for non-athletic reasons. Athletes should be afforded with opportunities to compete so that they can develop their skills and have the benefit of measuring themselves against other athletes on the field of play. Rules that restrict athletes from competing run counter to that objective.”

Therefore, under the U.S. Amateur Sports Act and the USOC Constitution, USA Dance could not and would not engage in the banning of USA Dance member athletes and officials who participated in athletic events outside the WDSF family of competitions. I read this letter out loud to the assembled delegates at the WDSF Annual General Assembly and it, along with similar comments made from other delegates played a significant role in helping to overturn the WDSF’s banning provisions in 2012. As the U.S. Amateur Sports Act protects the rights of officials and coaches as well as athletes, I believe it is clear that the USOC would be ill disposed toward the types of actions presently engaged in by the NDCA to limit the officiating opportunities of its registrants.

A distinction must be made, however, between protections afforded to American athletes and officials under the U.S. Amateur Sports Act, and protections that may or may not exist for the athletes and officials in other countries.   The national federations and Olympic Committies in other countries have their own provisions for athletes and officials, which may more tightly control their right to participate and allow for actions to be taken against them that would not be tolerated or allowed in the U.S.

For this reason, the current WDSF policy is to allow an individual national federation to establish its own internal provisions governing its athletes and officials that are in line with the laws in that country. This has resulted in some countries limiting athletic opportunities for their athletes and officials in a manner that could not be done in the U.S. In fact this is the only reasonable and legal position for the WDSF to take as a member of the IOC, since it is not empowered to overstep national laws that exist in the over 90 countries which have WDSF-member DanceSport Federations.

I have seen arguments that USA Dance and the USOC should be stepping in to protect the DanceSport athletes and officials in other nations where some form of banning is still taking place. This type of thinking is naïve and reflects an ignorance of the autonomy afforded by the IOC to each nation to manage its athletic programs under its own laws as long as they remain in compliance with the Olympic Charter. The USOC and by extension USA Dance, is charged with protecting the rights of American athletes and officials. Its charter’s scope does not extend beyond that.

I have also seen comments to the effect that the WDSF is seeking to control DanceSport in the U.S. via an increased number of WDSF competitions. Such competitions are in fact being provided in order to increase DanceSport opportunities in the U.S., and organizers voluntarily bid on the chance to host them.   While the WDSF can mandate that international competitions run under a WDSF sanction must follow WDSF rules, it has no  authority over member federation competitions run nationally such as those under the sanctioning authority of USA Dance (closed competitions), since USA Dance’s status as a USOC-recognized National Governing Body requires that USA Dance be autonomous in its governance of the sport.

Therefore, the current dispute between the NDCA and USA Dance concerning the limits being placed upon NDCA-registered officials can only be resolved in one way:  here in America taking into consideration American laws including the right- to-participate framework of the U.S. Amateur Sports Act.  Any international DanceSport disputes will need to be resolved taking into consideration the laws in place in the countries where such disputes arise and are adjudicated.

 

Thank You to My Readers

As we get ready to ring out the old year and welcome the new, I would like to thank all those who have visited this site in 2014. I started this site during the summer of 2013 initially as a place to raise issues regarding the USA Dance national election that would be taking place that fall. However, after the election passed I was asked to continue giving my viewpoints on a variety of DanceSport and ballroom dancing subjects and have been happy to do so. Needless to say, some of my articles have been received both positively and negatively.

The single most hotly debated article on this site during 2014 was the one I posted on October 7, 2014 entitled “A Commitment to DanceSport Athletes”. It obviously struck a chord with many people. Many have let me know that they share similar views or came to read my article with an open mind and a wish to constructively debate the issues. Of course there were the negative comments as well, from those who simply rejected outright what I had to say or who launched into personal criticisms for reasons of their own.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, because clearly people have a variety of deeply held opinions. I do always welcome respectful comments, and am happy to respond in kind.

There should be room in DanceSport for all who see competitive dance as both a sport and an art form, and who want to see DanceSport take its place with other artistic sports on the Olympic stage. In order for that to happen, a number of changes will have to occur in the way DanceSport is presented to the general public and in the role played by coaches and judges. These are topics that are worthy of discussion.

There will be lots here to talk about in 2015. I hope to cover issues dealing with DanceSport nationally, especially as they impact USA Dance, as well as internationally. There will also be continuing updates regarding Olympic Day and DanceSport’s growing role in the Olympic Movement. So stay tuned.

2014 USA Dance California State DanceSport Championships and NQE

The 2014 Cal State DanceSport Championships and NQE took place in the recently  renovated San Jose City National Civic. This 1930’s landmark building received a $15 million facelift several years ago, including a refurbished hardwood floor, all new fixed seating, improved lighting, and upgraded dressing rooms complete with make-up counters and lights as well as showers in both the mens’ and ladies’ dressing rooms.

Over the decades the City National Civic has hosted everything from revivals to basketball games and music performances by such artists as Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Barbra Streisand.   While music performances still take place regularly, these days the refurbished floor also hosts its share of dance events, including the 2014 Cal State.

Attendance was up from the 2013 Cal State, and especially strong among college age competitors, as UC Berkeley and Stanford brought their entire dance teams, and the San Jose State University formation team performed in the evening.

Over 150 couples competed in over 60 individual events, plus an additional 140 spectators came to cheer them on, using clappers and bringing signs to support their favorites. The arena was set up in a manner to allow for a generous competition floor measuring 75×48 feet plus a separate and spacious practice floor.

A number of individual Novice, Pre-Championship and Championship events had two rounds while several syllabus and newcomer events had anywhere between 40 and 55 couples, requiring multiple rounds to determine the ultimate winners.

There were many outstanding performances, especially notable being the Adult Championship Standard winning performance of Earle Williamson and Charlotte Christiansen, competing in their first USA Dance NQE. Runners up and dancing impressively in this event also were William Stansbury and Jenny Sokolsky.

As a member of the organizing team I was not in the ballroom during all the competitions. But during the times I was there I particularly enjoyed watching Winston and Lilly Chow, who were victorious in Senior IV Championship Standard, while Senior II Championship Latin was ably won by Edwin and Charlotte Bugarin. Senior III Championship American Smooth winners were Bill and Frances Manning, and the Junior I Championship Latin title was captured by Tyler Li and Anjelica Lowe.

Kinsley Lin and Michelle Yiu won both the Youth Standard and Latin Championship events. It should be noted that Kinsley and Michelle have represented the U.S. in several WDSF world championships this year, and were presented with a $500 scholarship by Nor Cal Chapter President James Kleinrath on behalf of the Nor Cal Chapter Board in order to help offset their expenses to these events.

To view the full results for all competitions as well as photos and video clips, simply go to the Nor Cal Chapter Website at www.usadance-norcal.org and click on the links.

A wonderful selection of music was provided by Music Director Dave Ingals, while MC duties were expertly handled by Karen Andersen. There was an excellent panel of judges, which was headed by Dan Calloway as Chairman.

I was pleased to hand out a number of awards during the afternoon and evening, and since Esther Freeman, who is a USA Dance National Past President as well as the Immediate National Past Treasurer was in attendance, I asked her to assist in award presentation as well.

The organizer of the event was the USA Dance Nor Cal Chapter Board, assisted by a group of experienced volunteers the day of the event.

The organizers would like to thank all those who came and participated in the 2014 Cal State and look forward to seeing them again next year.

A Commitment to Elite DanceSport Athletes

I have debated whether to post this column, as it may offend some members of USA Dance, but feel it is necessary as it appears that USA Dance may be drifting away from its principle purpose and reason for being in existence.

USA Dance was approved by the United States Olympic Committee as the National Governing Body for DanceSport in the mid-1990’s.  Achieving this goal was one of the organization’s founding pillars and put USA Dance firmly on the path as a recognized sport organization, and DanceSport as a participant in the World Games, future Pan American Games and possibly one day a program sport in the Olympic Games.  As an NGB, USA Dance’s single most important activity is the administration of DanceSport, requiring that a majority of the organization’s funds and activities be applied toward the growth and development of the sport. Especially important is the training and development of elite athletes just entering their peak competition years, as they are the ones representing the U.S. in World DanceSport Federation top world championship events, the World Games and also the Pan American Games, perhaps as early as 2019.

USA Dance has many wonderful social dancers who enthusiastically attend dances and workshops regularly because of their love of ballroom dancing and also because of the  physical and mental benefits which dance provides throughout life.  USA Dance is also blessed with many motivated senior competitors for whom DanceSport is a much-loved hobby that is passionately pursued.

While social dancers and senior competitors are an important and valued component of the USA Dance membership, it must be remembered that it is the junior, youth and adult competitors who must take front and center when USA Dance allocates resources and plans activities for the membership.

Most social dancers and senior competitors instinctively understand this, and support USA Dance’s top athletes via USA Dance’s network of chapters that invite top athletes to perform at chapter functions and provide scholarship dollars and hold fundraisers for these athletes. Such social dancers, senior competitors and USA Dance chapters do not begrudge the time, energy and funds which USA Dance spends on its elite athletes.

Unfortunately however, there are some members in our organization who are resentful and complain that more organizational resources should flow to social dancers and senior competitors and less to our top and upcoming athletes.  This is troubling, especially since a social dance membership is only a fraction of what competitors pay.  With regard to senior competitors, while they pay full membership dues, it must be remembered that for most of them competitive dance is not their primary occupation from which they derive their income, but an athletic/artistic endeavor they pursue outside of their chosen career.

A review of other National Governing Bodies (NGBs), be they those which oversee gymnastics, figure skating, synchronized swimming or any number of other sports in the Olympic and Pan American programs, makes it clear that the vast majority of resources in these organizations go to supporting elite athletes during their peak performance years.  Such athletes do not self-select into senior-age categories but actively compete in the open category from which Pan American and Olympic athletes are selected.  In this category, a 40 year-old will compete against a 20 year-old and the best athlete, regardless of age, gets selected for the Pan American or Olympic team.

In 2013 USA Dance made the financial commitment to spend $25,000 on a junior and youth world team Olympic dance camp, which was held in May of 2013 at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York.  At the Olympic dance camp our young athletes were afforded excellent training from top overseas coaches as well as private training sessions with their own fine coaches who accompanied them to Lake Placid. There were also lectures from USOC staff on nutrition, injury prevention and sports psychology. This was a highly successful program, with athletes and their parents requesting that it be continued and expanded.  The national officers of USA Dance at that time agreed and were determined to find the funds to continue this as a yearly program.

Having recently returned from the annual Governing Council meeting, I was disappointed that there was no Olympic dance camp in the planning stages for our elite athletes.  Instead, the organization is seeing significant dollars being spent for other purposes, such as $30,000 per year for accounting and bookkeeping services that used to be performed on a volunteer basis by past national treasurers going back decades.  While current national officers believe this is a good use of membership dollars I beg to differ.  A significant portion of these dollars could and should be going to elite athlete development, including the Olympic dance camp for USA Dance’s top athletes.

As a USOC-recognized NGB, USA Dance must meet its commitment to its top elite athletes first and foremost, and I sincerely hope that the Governing Council of USA Dance will make the commitment and take future steps to do so.

 

Message from the USOC Regarding Olympic Day Success

The USOC issued the following message today to those who participated in Olympic Day 2014:

“Thank you for your participation in Olympic Day 2014. Over 500,000 Americans celebrated Olympic Day while participating in 1,055 celebrations in 813 cities. With celebrations in all 50 states and 11 locations abroad, 2014 was a paramount success—making this year the most successful Olympic Day celebration in United States history.

Olympic Day is a celebration for youth around the world to observe the Olympic values of Fair Play, Perseverance, Respect and Sportsmanship. It is also a day to celebrate the International Olympic Committee’s three pillars: Move, Learn and Discover.

More than 875 Olympians, Paralympians, coaches and hopefuls helped to spread the Olympic spirit across the United States. While attending Olympic Day events, athletes shared the Olympic ideals of Fair Play, Perseverance, Respect, and Sportsmanship.

The U.S. Olympic Committee thanks everyone who contributed to the incredible success of Olympic Day and for their continued support of the Olympic Movement.”

USA Dance celebrated Olympic Day in three cities in 2014 – two in California and one in Florida.  Let’s try to increase that number in 2015!

 

A Tribute to Jerry Bonmer

I read the notice sent by USA Dance today that Jerry Bonmer, Membership Director, was leaving his position at the end of this month, but was surprised by its brevity.  On July 29, 2013 in a post on this site I wrote that it was Jerry who sent me and my husband, Mark our membership cards when we joined USA Dance (then USABDA) as brand new competitors in 1985.

When I became a member of the Governing Council in 1996 Jerry was one of the first to congratulate me and I could always count on his advice and encouragement over the years.  And whenever I took a position Jerry did not agree with, he let me know that too, loud and clear!

During my years as a Regional Vice President I sat next to Jerry at most of the Governing Council meetings and Jerry was never shy about speaking his mind on any issue before the GC . There was never anyone better than Jerry at turning the direction of a meeting around that had headed off course and making sure that the GC concentrated on the most important thing, which was keeping the best interests of the membership front and center in any discussion.

Jerry and his wife Sue are founding members of USA Dance and were present and involved in many of USA Dance’s milestones over the decades. Additionally, Jerry could always be counted on year after year to assist at Nationals – handling any and all competitor membership issues right there so that all who were eligible to compete were able to do so without delay, and assisting in any other capacity as needed.  He interacted with the chapters on a daily basis, providing membership data, sending out membership cards and promptly answering membership questions.  Many chapters grew to rely on Jerry and the membership data he provided them.

I enjoyed frequently sitting with Jerry and Sue at Nationals where I could hear what the Bonmers had to say about so many of the couples, as their knowledge of and friendships with scores of dancers was legendary.  And Jerry always had many stories to tell of USA Dance’s early years – its champions and  those who played an important formative role in the organization from the very beginning.

Jerry is the last founding member of USA Dance to leave the Governing Council, and I look forward to seeing a fitting tribute to him in the next issue of the American Dancer Magazine.  I consider Jerry and Sue to be true friends, and look forward to the continuation of our friendship in the years ahead.

Olympic Day 2014 a Success!

The Nor Cal Chapter of USA Dance held two Olympic Day events in 2014 – On June 21st at Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo and on June 22nd at The Shops At Tanforan in San Bruno.  Our guest Olympian was rower Mike Altman (2004 and 2008 Olympic Games).  Mike spoke to the audience about the Olympic values of perseverance, good sportsmanship and fair play and reminisced about his own personal journey to the Olympic Games.  Members of the public stopped by to speak with Mike afterword and to get his autograph.  Mike brought with him lots of Olympic athlete cards, which were a hit with the kids in the audience on both days and were eagerly picked up.

Since an important element of Olympic Day is to encourage people of all ages to become physically active, what better way to get good exercise than to dance.  Nor Cal Chapter members took to the floor with a series of DanceSport demonstrations, followed by a simple Cha Cha lesson, allowing members of the public from the very young to senior citizen age to stretch their legs and learn a few dance steps.

My thanks go out to all who made these events a success:  the USOC, the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee, Olympian Mike Altman, and the staffs of the Hillsdale Shopping Center and The Shops At Tanforan.

And thanks also to Nor Cal Board Members:  Vice President Karen Andersen, whose masterful job as MC kept the events moving while imparting information to the audience about the history of each dance and the dancers they were seeing; Chapter President Jim Kleinrath who did double duty as a demonstrator and dance instructor, and Chapter Secretary Mark Scardina, who also did double duty as DJ and photographer.

And a final special thank you to our wonderful DanceSport athletes, who shared their passion for dance with the public not only through their wonderful dance routines, but also by joining in the Cha Cha lesson afterward:  Pre-Teen athletes Tyler Li and Anjelica Lowe, Junior athletes Lance Yasinsky and Paloma Pronin, and Adult/Senior Athletes Jim Kleinrath dancing with his student Junko Tanabe.

The celebration of Olympic Day strengthens the link DanceSport has with the Olympic Movement, and the Nor Cal Chapter of USA Dance was very pleased to have done its part  in bringing the Olympic message to appreciative audiences in Northern California.

Sports for All Commission Has Held its First Meeting

I returned earlier this week from the first meeting of the WDSF Sports for All  Commission.  WDSF President Carlos Freitag welcomed us and made some opening remarks about the establishment of this Commission and the important work he hoped it would tackle.

Chair Heidi Estler of Germany, Sandy Brittain of Canada and Professor Rainbow Ho of Hong Kong and I spent the early part of the meeting getting to know one another better and discussing our respective backgrounds and what motivated us to become interested and involved in promoting dance and DanceSport in our own federations.  We also discussed how promotion of DanceSport could be tied in to the Olympic Movement as a whole.  We then got down to the business of planning future projects that we hope to roll out later in the year and in 2015.

I was happy to take the minutes of the meeting, and once the minutes are reviewed and approved, information will be released on the future plans and activities of the Commission.

 

WDSF Sports For All Commission Meeting

Next week I will be attending the first meeting of the WDSF Sports For All Commission.  The meeting will be held in Bucharest, Romania in conjunction with the WDSF’s Annual General Assembly.  On the Commission agenda will be a discussion of ideas on how the WDSF and its member federations can work with the IOC and the national Olympic Committees to further the Olympic message that participation in sport is a human right for all men, women and children of all economic strata and in all societies around the world.

If USA Dance members have any ideas they would like to suggest on this topic, please contact me.

 

As DanceSport Prepares to Become a Pan American Sport – Some Thoughts for USA Dance

Participation in the Pan American Games is moving ever closer for DanceSport as more Latin American countries are added to the roster of nations whose national Olympic Committees accept their DanceSport federations as members.  In the next few years USA Dance will need to make some important changes to its bylaws in order to fully comply with the requirements set forth in the U.S. Amateur Sports Act and the USOC Constitution for National Governing Bodies (NGB’s) in order to prepare for DanceSport’s entry into the Pan American Games.  I would like to discuss in this column one of the major changes to the bylaws that will need to be made as well as some related issues that need attention.

In 1996 USA Dance made application to the USOC for recognition as an NGB. The USOC allowed some flexibility in certain provisions of the USA Dance bylaws because USA Dance was initially approved as an affiliate member of the USOC rather than as a full member, and had very few World Team athletes at that time. This affiliate status allowed USA Dance to select athlete representatives from a larger pool. This pool included not only world team or elite-level adult international style competitors, but also championship level athletes in open or age-protected senior age categories.

This flexibility, however, would no longer be afforded at such time as DanceSport becomes a Pan American sport, at which time all NGB provisions of the USOC Constitution would need to be satisfied.  That document defines athlete representatives as individuals who “must have represented the United States in the Olympic, Pan American or Paralympic Games, (or) World Championships…within the ten (10) years preceding election.”

At that time any individuals serving on the DanceSport Council not satisfying that eligibility requirement would need to resign from their positions as DanceSport Delegates and be replaced with elite competitors who are currently representing or had represented USA Dance in the last ten years in World DanceSport Federation world championships.  If an election for DanceSport Delegates were held today, two of the four Delegates presently serving on the DanceSport Council would not be eligible to run in that election and would need to step down from their positions.

At such time as DanceSport becomes a Pan American sport, USA Dance will be moved from the Multi-Sport Organizations Council of the USOC on which it currently serves into the NGB Council, and an athlete will be selected to represent USA Dance athletes on the USOC Athletes Advisory Council, with the rights, privileges and responsibilities associated with full membership as a Pan American sport. In the run up to this recognition, USA Dance will be subjected to ever closer scrutiny by the USOC to ensure that the sport is being properly managed in a fair, ethical and responsible manner. Even today as an affiliate member of the USOC, USA Dance is required to afford member athletes, officials and organizers all due process rights in the event USA Dance takes disciplinary or other action against them or they file a grievance against USA Dance for alleged denial or restriction of their rights.

USA Dance athletes, officials and organizers who claim unfair treatment are afforded the right to have their grievance reviewed by the USOC ombudsman and/or assigned to a panel of three individuals chosen from other Olympic or Pan American NGB’s to hear and adjudicate the grievance. NGB’s that are shown to be noncompliant in affording their members the necessary due process face disciplinary action themselves from the USOC.

The USOC also looks askance at individuals who may be financially profiting from their position of oversight of the sport in any capacity. As such, individuals should not be serving in administrative or governance positions where they are a party to the formulation or approval of rules or regulations that may financially benefit them.

USA Dance now needs to start grappling with and addressing issues of this nature in order to be well-positioned to apply for Pan American sport status when DanceSport becomes eligible in the near term.