Dance has been Trudi Clark’s passion since childhood and she founded her own company – Mirrors Dance – when she was 30. But she never felt entirely comfortable being her true self within the world of dancesport. Then, at the age of 44, she took a big step towards authenticity – it changed her life. She shares her story with us for Rainbow Laces…
At Sports Media LGBT+, we’re always keen to make new connections and learn about the wide range of different experiences that LGBTQ+ people have had in sport.
Whenever Rainbow Laces rolls around at this time of year, we aim to highlight how personal stories can not only inspire others but also contribute to the visibility and representation that’s so important in helping to make sport more welcoming for everyone.
We’re grateful to Trudi Clark for reaching out to us via Instagram and telling us a little about her journey in dancesport – she’s a professional ballroom and Latin dancer.
And with the current BBC series of Strictly Come Dancing heading towards its conclusion – plus equality dance coupling John Whaite and Johannes Radebe reaching the semi-finals (and capturing our hearts) – there’s no better time to step up!
We invited Trudi to tell us more about her company Mirrors Dance, and how she was able to bring her personal and professional life together within the sport she loves…
I’ve always been a dancer – I feel I was learning to dance at the same time I was learning to walk!
By the time I reached puberty, I knew I was bisexual – and that I had a strong leaning towards my fellow females. But being in the 1980s, and growing up in a fairly rough town, no one at my school ever came out. For me, it was due to a fear of isolation or bullying.
In my dancing life, outside of my formal education, there were masses of female dancers. They all presented as feminine and appeared straight. Within that world, there was a fear of being unwelcome in changing rooms, backstage or when doing close-up dance work, should I have come out.
Through my late teens and 20s, there were a number of memorable encounters with other female dancers, but these were casually brushed off by partners as ‘experimental’ or fun. These were confusing times for me – maybe the best of times, maybe the worst of times.
At the age of 30, I opened my own dancing company, Mirrors Dance, in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. We specialise in adults dancesport, and I’ve dedicated the past 14 years to the joy and learning of its members. Yet I spent 12 of those years hiding an increasingly heavy shadow self. I grew quite numb to personal fulfilment, outside of my beloved career.
Through 2019 and 2020, I worked very hard on my own personal self-development and love, realising that I was living for my work, and although successful, I was quite unhappy outside of the dancing school. I slowly learned to acknowledge all of myself as good and equally important.
I was asked to lecture at the Worldwide Annual Congress 2021 to represent my Association of Dance in Argentine Tango. Due to Covid, this event was filmed and sent out to 7,500 members around the globe.
After some thought, I chose a female dance demonstration partner, which hadn’t been done before. I choreographed a non-gender specific Argentine Tango lecture, the first of its kind.
I half expected the lecture to be cut from the program, due to traditional views, but I’m pleased to say that it was included, and an article was published in the Dance International Magazine to support it.
Also through 2021, I trained to become an ICF Accredited Level 3 Life Coach, which brought me to a point in my life where I didn’t want to live with secrets and shadows anymore. Instead, I decided to embrace authentic self-living.
I decided to come out, at the age of 44, to all of my teaching team, over 1,000 students, and my friends. My parents already knew of my quiet struggle.
I can honestly say the relief was overwhelming and emotional. I received nothing but love and understanding, and I now feel I can breathe freely.
I have had the Mirrors Dance website redesigned to include LGBTQ+ activities – to open the door to those who do not feel comfortable dancing in a hetero environment. I also announced my ‘coming out’ on our social media platforms. I feel free and hopeful for a full life without any shadows or fear. I am who I am.
I feel there’s an understanding of men within the LGBTQ+ community being represented and living out within the dance industry, and there is a draw into the industry for them as they are embraced for living as themselves, however they present.
I personally feel dance is very accommodating in this regard but it has way less representation for female dancers currently.
From my experience, because we present as feminine (partly out of expectation, but largely because we like lipstick, dresses and heels) plus the fact that there are literally thousands of us all vying for the same jobs, it becomes very courageous to stand as lesbian, bi or queer in dancesport, and not worry how we might make others feel in our dance environments.
A taste of Queer Tango?
I’m setting up an LGBTQ+ ‘Queer Tango’ class from January 2021 for people to learn Argentine Tango, regardless of the traditional heteronormative roles associated with partnered dance.
Many of you will have watched and enjoyed the recent Argentine Tango performed by John and Johannes on Strictly – it was a magical moment, and they scored a sensational 39 points out of 40!
The dance was in fact predominantly developed by men dancing with men due to the lack of women in Argentina in the early 20th century.
There are plenty of examples of same-sex Argentine Tango. One of my personal favourites is from the recent US series of ‘Dancing With The Stars’ – JoJo Siwa and Jenna Johnson scored maximum points.
Our dancing school has choreographed many bespoke wedding dances for couples wishing to make their first dance a magical and memorable moment for their guests. Through this, the lead-up to a wedding is romantically intensified, as the couple commits to learning to dance together weekly.
There is laughter, fun, and the shared euphoria in learning something new and growing, expanding comfort zones.
The ‘Queer Tango’ movement is slowly opening up across the globe – with a base in London, Santiago, Zurich, Catania, Berlin, Geneva, Mexico, Miami, Russia, Buenos Aires – and from January 2022, Hitchin, Hertfordshire.
Enabling meeting people when traveling, through dancing, even if you don’t speak their language, you can have a wonderful night out.
Perhaps this isn’t your regular Rainbow Laces story – we don’t tend to wear lace-up shoes!
But I am happy to forge the way and break moulds in dancesport, and hopefully help smooth the journey for anyone who wants to take to the floor, get fit, and have fun.
Sports Media LGBT+ is a network, advocacy, and consultancy group that is helping to build a community of LGBT+ people and allies in sport. We’re also a digital publisher. Learn more about us here.
LGBTQ+ and have a role in sports? Your visibility will inspire other people – sharing your story can be hugely rewarding and you don’t have to be famous to make a positive and lasting impact. We encourage you to start a conversation with us, in confidence, and we’ll provide the best advice on navigating the media as part of your journey so that you retain control of your personal narrative.