Perspectives on degendering competitions: Kim Sifter

Over the past year there has been a strong effort to make West Coast Swing competitions gender neutral, meaning men can compete as followers and women can compete as leaders. This degendering of competitions has raised a lot of questions, caused many concerns, and stimulated plenty of debate about the purpose of competitions, the logistics of how we implement competitions, and even the definition of roles in the dance. To shed some more light on this subject, I’ve asked a few different leaders of the degendering movement to share their perspectives and insights here on this blog. Each week this month I will post a different guest blog, and at the end of the series I will share my own thoughts on the issue. (Be sure to read last week’s post by Kelly Casanova.)

shapeimage_2This week’s guest is San Francisco’s own Kim Sifter. Specializing in West Coast Swing, Kim has been teaching dance for over 25 years. In addition to American Smooth and Rhythm, Kim’s diverse dance background includes Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Belly-dance, Tap, Country Two-Step and Argentine Tango. As Somatic Movement Therapist and Educator and graduate of the Ballroom Dance Teacher’s College, Kim sees dancing as integral to everyday life. Her philosophy of dance as art, sport and conversation between two people gives her a unique perspective on teaching dance. For more about Kim, her background, and her classes, please visit her website.


Ever had a conversation with a complete stranger? Of course, we all do. We strike up conversations in line at the grocery store or waiting for the bus, maybe with the waiter. They’re generally short, innocuous, usually of a positive nature, and, on occasion, flirtatious.

If a WCS dance is a conversation between two people, and I believe it is, than why do we limit ourselves to one type of conversation? And only with the opposite sex? Furthermore, why should one gender always own the topic of the conversation? Which is kinda what leading is when you think about it.

I want to have all the conversations I can. I want to learn about you, and sometimes I have something to say. (Ack! Don’t ask my husband about that one. He will tell you that I have a Kimpinion about EVERYTHING.)

If one of the measures of how well we do this thing called West Coast Swing is how well we do it under pressure, with a partner we don’t know, dancing to music we may not have heard, in front of people we don’t know who judging us, then why have further restrictions about how that dance is supposed to be other than we’re still doing the standards of the dance? We might as well say you can only do the following steps, execute the following patterns, wear these clothes, be this age, look this way.

By opening up Jack & Jill contests to any arrangement of gender in any roll, you expand the conversations you are privileged to have. Yes, I know there are a number of people, maybe even a large number that only want to have one conversation, and that’s okay. That’s what Strictly Swings and Routine divisions are for. You call the shots.

West Coast Swing is so many things to so many people these days, from the music to the timing to look and feel, why are we restricting the growth from a prescribed role point of view? Just because? There’s nothing wrong with figuring out what defines a dance or a contest, but I believe in making those decisions based on the essence of the dance and not preconceived societal notions of gender roles.

Have the conversations! Talk, relate, dance…. Connect.

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