To make the most rigorous distinction between a professional and an amateur in sports was, above all, an Anglo-Saxon axiom. At the turn of the twentieth century – and in sports like athletics, golf and tennis – such distinctions were made more from a societal point of view than anything else. Sports were the privilege of an upper class that could afford to practice them for pleasure only. Earning one’s living through dexterity, skills and physical virtues was considered inappropriate and “working class” not only in the United Kingdom of the Victorian era. Elsewhere too!
The first competitive dancers, however, had no reservations about declaring themselves professionals. Many were teaching dance and enterprising in related ventures. To be a professional seemed perfectly acceptable for the pioneers who hardly considered dance to be sport.
While sporting amateurism remained a zealously guarded ideal until the 1960s, professionalism was the coveted status and synonymous with mastery in dance. When the German Imperial Association for the Fostering of Social Dance initiated the founding of the International Federation for Amateur Dancers in 1935, it was a countermovement of sorts to the rule by British dance professionals.
“Amateur” was adopted in the name of the organisation that later became the World DanceSport Federation as well. The International Council of Amateur Dancers founded in 1957 was to contrast with the International Council of Ballroom Dancing, the organisation which dance teachers had founded in 1950. Not just in name – in the interpretation of dance as sport too! More than a subtlety!
Putting nearly all emphasis on the distinction between amateur and professional status had made for some irreconcilable differences between two opposing camps over many years.
Today, the perspectives have changed. Every dancer turning professional looks back at a successful career as an “amateur.” And the quotation marks are perfectly in order: such status does no longer exist! The new professional will have won purses in competition – and received remuneration for lessons and shows – much prior to his or her change of status.
In DanceSport competitions at The World Games, at the Asian Games, etc., athletes from both camps unite and contest the same titles. The two camps have drawn much closer, even to a point that distinguishing between them is probably the hardest part.
What does change is the approach taken to dance itself. A change of attitude as much as a change of style! The two World DanceSport Federation Professional Division World Champion couples explain.
“We do fewer competitions than we used to do as “amateurs.” We do a little bit more teaching and more shows now. And we changed our routines and our dancing.”Silvia Pitton, ITAWDSF PD World Champion Standard
“We also seem to have more time to train now. And that is very positive!”Paolo Bosco, ITAWDSF PD World Champion Standard
“As a professional you are expected to show more mature and adult dancing. You should demonstrate a profound understanding of each dance.”Anna Firstova, RUSWDSF PD World Champion Latin
“People tell us that we look more relaxed and mature. In fact, we are enjoying our dancing just as much as we did before. But it is less sport and more art!”Alexey Silde, RUSWDSF PD World Champion Latin