University of Exeter: Portrayals of same-sex couples in Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice as “bromances” is a missed opportunity to challenge assumptions, study argues

Couples such as Johannes Radebe and John Whaite – currently performing on Strictly Come Dancing – have been popular with viewers and have normalised the portrayal of same-sex dancing.

But researchers have said a focus in the media on the male dancers’ friendship, rather than romantic and sexual love, means traditional views about dancing – and homophobia – are not challenged.

While the introduction of male/male dance partnerships and performances on Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice pointed to a more inclusive British society, they were portrayed in reports as “bromances” rather than an opportunity to change assumptions.

Despite positive reactions from fans and the media, some media coverage and comments at the time about Dancing on Ice suggested stripping away sexual intimacy would make the male coupling more acceptable to the public, and that a “bromance” theme should first be mobilised to test the waters and “normalise” male/male dance partnerships.

The research, published in the International Journal of the Sociology of Leisure.was carried out by Yen Nee Wong, now at the University of Exeter, Vicki Harman from the University of Surrey and Craig Owen, from Anglia Ruskin University.

Analysing media coverage of male/male dance partnerships and performances on Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice between Graziano Di Prima and Johannes Radebe, and Matt Evers and Ian Watkins, Dr Wong and colleagues found male/male dance partnerships were celebrated and used as evidence Britain was becoming a more progressive and inclusive society, with viewers who complained about the male couples “positioned as a homophobic minority and their voices treated with contempt as a relic from the past”.

Male couples were presented as showing each other emotional and physical affection without sexual attraction. News reports foregrounded “bromance” as a means to “gauge audience reaction before making the routines too intimate”, with Matt Evers quoted as saying “if the audience and fans embrace it, we’re going to push it a bit more. If they don’t, we’ll strip it back and it’ll be more of a friendship”.

Dr Wong said: “The male/male dance partnerships were not only heralded as a sign of increased visibility of gay men on prime-time television, but of the LGBT + community more generally. Positioned as ambassadors of the LGBT + community, the increasing visibility of gay same-sex dancers was equated with increased acceptance of LGBT + communities as a whole. There was also media discussion of male dancers’ past experiences of homophobia, and this no doubt helped to increase public awareness of the negative impacts of homophobia on the lives of LGBT + individuals.

“This new season of Strictly Come Dancing with all-male couple Johannes Radebe and John Whaite presents further opportunities for BBC to challenge the traditional format of partner dancing and work towards a more progressive media representation of ballroom dancing which encompasses diverse genders, sexualities, ethnicities and abilities.”