July 2010

Let’s Get Ready to Rumba!


One WeHo pair stands poised to grab the gold in same-sex ballroom at the Gay Games
by RAHA LEWIS / photograph by HENRY LEUTWYLER

Video: See WeHo's boys of ballroom in action

Steve Valentine and Robert Tristan are deep in the midst of a passion project, about to take to the hardwood for the same-sex ballroom-dancing competition at the 2010 Gay Games—aka the Gay Olympics—which kick off July 31 in Cologne, Germany. They are serious contenders, having won Northern California’s April Follies and La Fiesta de Montréal, the Canadian national same-sex ballroom championship, in May. And yet the two are not a couple—never have been. They met a year ago and, with Dancing with the Stars consistently slaying other shows in the ratings, decided to channel their mutual interest into competition. With support from West Hollywood city councilmember Abbe Land, they joined forces to teach a series of classes at Plummer Park.

Though similar to standard ballroom, gay ballroom requires a physicality that brings unique challenges—a basic one being who will lead. It’s not unheard of for couples to switch off in the dominant position. Even Valentine and Tristan agree watching same-sex ballroom can take some processing. “The first 10 minutes is strange, but after that, you just watch the dancing,” Tristan says. In all ballroom dance, there is undeniable sexual tension, even among platonic pairs. “On the dance floor, it’s like making love,” Valentine says. “We work with each other’s bodies continuously.”

Unlike other sports, same-sex dancing is unique to the Gay Games. “I like to be a Marilyn Monroe,” Tristan says. “If I don’t see the entire audience looking at us—maybe for a second they look at another couple—I get upset.” Still, work is work, and their goal in Cologne is to win. Rehearsals are relentless, as is the beauty regimen. “The smell of the spray tan is what gets me in the competitive mood,” Tristan says. As for the stay-in-place ’dos, Valentine adds, “Your hair has a hard-on.” And then, suited up in plunging necklines, chiffon and as much over-the-top sequins and beading as possible, they are ready to take their twirls.

More than anything, Valentine and Tristan want to bring a sense of fun to their community. “It’s not just about same-sex dancing—it’s about getting as many people into dancing at whatever level. It’s been life changing for both of us.”

Meet Valentine and Tristan at a fundraiser for their Olympic appearance, July 14 at the Abbey in West Hollywood. More information at gayballroomla.com.

COSTUME DESIGN: Maggie Barry and Gamila Smith
SHOES: Worldtone Dance
GROOMING: Ozzie Morales / Luxelab Salon, Santa Monica