Gay Games off at a Gallop
by Jim Provenzano
It's been twenty years since its inception, and over four years since the city of Sydney began preparing for Gay Games VI.
In many parts of the city, colourful banners publicizing the Games swung in the spring breeze.
On buses, at street corners, in cafes and clubs, world class multi-medallists brushed shoulders and traded stories with eager novices of all ages.
As the first days preceding the Games' opening, the streets of Sydney began to fill with badge-wearing tourists, some in clumps from Spain, others from Ohio and Vancouver, scouring maps and timidly boarding buses to outlying areas.
No place was fuller than the Oxford Street district, "the strip" to locals. With its bars packed, music blaring and some playing Turkish wrestling on TV screens, the competition for romantic partners had already hit the preliminary rounds. Among the pre-Opening nightclub events was a party for Team USA, which included a "Spank the Yank" blessing by the Sydney order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Many athletes had already begun competition in a few sports on Nov. 1. Others took the days preceding their events to shop, warm up, work out, and queue up for tickets to parties and cultural events.
Athletes from countries other than the US and Germany have precious few compatriots. Italy counted less than forty. Croatia sent half a dozen. One lone Iraqi had his story published in a recent New York Times, adding political charge to the proceedings.
The highest numbers of athletes attending include those in swimming (1441), volleyball (1211), tennis (1062), track and field (1089), with new sports that include Australian favourites; field hockey, netball, touch rugby and sailing, whose registration was the first to fill up over a year ago.
On Friday, among the hundred or so travellers lining up in the basement of the busy Town Hall in the heart of downtown Sydney, Dunja Jansen and Claudia Reger chatted with their friends as they waited to register. The two partners from Cologne, Germany have practiced their Ballroom Dance routines since winning in 1998's Amsterdam Games.
"We got second place in the highest class in Ballroom, and in Latin, the fifth place," said Jansen.
The inclusion and growth of same-sex ballroom dancing stems from the Gay Games. But while gender pairings have been expanded, costume requirements are strict. Jansen described hers as "a sort of frock. You have to see a lot of the figure. It's light to show the body's shapes."
Judging is somewhat subjective. "Everything is noticed," said Jansen, "the character, the rhythm." She also mentioned that specific tempos are required, as well as musical styles.
Since 1998, Jansen and Reger have competed in specialized tournaments throughout Europe, particularly in Germany and the Netherlands. Not all are gay events, but they said that the Games have furthered the diversity in this artistic sport event.
"I think it's paved the way for women," said Jansen. "There are different opportunities, in very small places and corners, but it has opened up to other dancers. We have special competitions in several towns, once a year, in other cities."
They hope to win in both Ballroom and Latin categories, where artistic flair, comportment, articulation of the dance vocabulary and a sense of style will be judged at a lavish performance in the same building where thousands of registrations have been processed. The ornate Town Hall, with sweeping staircases and sparkling chandeliers, will become a dance festival from Sunday through Wednesday Nov. 6, when over 400 dancers will perform a variety of styles.
With so many years of practice, do they feel ready?
"We hope so," said Jansen. "We just landed, and we've got a bit of jet lag."
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