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.