Before I begin, I would like to point out that I’m presenting this as an open letter to the Board of Directors for the Capital District chapter of USA Dance (3014), its chapter membership, and our entire local dance community. It is very long, but, I feel, very important, and ends with an idea that might help Capital USA Dance immensely!
I have been a member of USA Dance for 25 years. I served on the local chapter’s steering committee and on every elected Board of Directors for 20 years, the last five of those as president of the chapter. I have always been, and will always be, a strong supporter of Capital USA Dance. It provides a powerful resource and unbiased community linchpin for all our local dancers.
It is therefore with regret that I must tell you that I did not renew my membership in USA Dance this year, and will not do so until such time as the national organization completely changes leadership and direction, and supports its own chapters and the US ballroom dance community in general. This comes as the result of a decade or more of progressively more restrictive and stupid actions on the part of the national organization and its parent organization, the World Dancesport Federation (WDSF).
As many current and former members of the board will remember, I have expressed concerns about the national organization for well over a decade. While too many to list in their entirety, these are some highlights:
- Joining WDSF as a way to move US dancesport into the Olympics, at the expense of making significant and not entirely welcome changes to the organizations rules and structure, with almost yearly changes afterward.
- At the behest of the WDSF, starting a feud with the NDCA , the US’ other major ballroom dance organization (and who belongs to the WDC, the WDSF’s competitor) by disallowing USA Dance (then USABDA) competitors from USA Dance competitions should they choose to take part in an NDCA event. This was later revoked, but the damage was done, and eventually the cooperative agreement that USA Dance had had with the NDCA for decades previously was eradicated.
- Ever decreasing flexibility from the national organization in how chapters might be run and structured, along with ambiguously written and usually unnecessary new rules.
- Elimination of the individual chapters’ already paltry shares of membership dues with the stated purpose of “reinvesting” those funds into a poorly designed, incompetently run “website system” that would provide websites for every chapter, regardless of whether they wanted or needed new websites.
- Peremptory messages and calls to chapter officers demanding that the chapter utterly change it’s website and social media presences to conform to a new ‘branding’ standard with complete disregard for the fact that our chapter had been building its online brand carefully and consistently over more than 15 years, and all of that work would be lost.
- Complete disarray in the leadership of the national organization, starting with the election and resignation of a mostly new governing council under intimations of financial impropriety, continuing through an effective “palace coup” where an appointed nominating committee for national elections only allowed voting on a slate basically consisting of its own members and those who initially appointed them, sweeping away yet another governing council, and the forced dissolution by the GC of the New York City chapter over allegations of financial impropriety, after which no investigation was conducted and the chapter was left without even provisional leadership for half a year.
- Ceding of the American Style Syllabi to the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance, a British organization with no particular expertise in American Style ballroom and a history of its devotees putting down American Style as “inferior”/”sloppy”/etc…
- Complete failure to produce the quarterly “American Dancer” newsletter, even after declaring that they were moving to digital distribution to keep costs down.
For me, the final straw came last week. You see, after all the US organization was forced to do to conform to WDSF standards in order to “get us in the Olympics”, the WDSF has spent the last two years focusing most of its available resources on promoting Break-dancing as a competitive sport (https://www.worlddancesport.org/Media/Press/Release), and is now touting its success in bringing “Breaking” to the 2024 Olympics (https://www.worlddancesport.org/Media/Press/Release/201903_IOC_Executive_Board_gives_thumbs_up_for_Breaking_at_Paris_2024-2922). As for it’s abandonment of even International Style ballroom in this regard, the WDSF president, in his “President’s Report 2019” (https://www.worlddancesport.org/Document/465982295585/E-Booklet_2019_AGM.pdf ), called Standard and Latin “niche traditional disciplines” that must be “repackaged” to be “more universally relatable” before they have any hope of inclusion. He makes no mention of why the organization has spent two years devoting all it’s resources to a sport it doesn’t even have recognized jurisdiction over rather than actually DOING the repackaging he feels is necessary!
I guess we finally won?
I have watched Capital USA Dance struggle valiantly against the roadblocks and willful neglect of the national organization for the last decade, and I have real concerns about the viability of the chapter if this continues, especially in the realm of membership. If you were not aware, most of our local competitors no longer even attend most USA Dance competitions, and many do not maintain their memberships. This trend is occurring among both competitors and social members across the country, and threatens the continued existence of many chapters. A number of chapters have broken away from national completely and set themselves up as separate non-profit entities in an effort to retain membership dues and win back lapsed members.
While I would not suggest such drastic measures for Capital USA Dance, I do have a suggestion:
Why not institute a “local dancer” membership for the chapter, for those like myself, who refuse to support the national organization until they change course? It could still garner the local benefits of membership, like event discounts and the chapter newsletter, while lacking voting rights and other national-controlled programs, but would be money paid directly to the chapter, rather than national. Given that a national membership gets those benefits while not contributing to the financial resources of the chapter, this would seem to be a huge win for the chapter, even if this membership had a significantly lower cost than national membership (perhaps $10-15?)!
Should national question this status, it could be sold to them as a way to keep wayward members at least somewhat in the fold, especially on pointing out that they themselves are doing literally nothing to help keep the chapter afloat, while the chapter provides them with thousands of dollars each year in membership dues.
If this idea were successful, and I strongly suspect it would be, it would serve as a stinging rebuke to national from all who feel as I do about their actions while massively increasing the chapter’s income.
I appreciate your time and attention, reading through my massive screed, and I hope you will consider my proposal.