Blues awards for the Oxford University Dance Team were released this week, sparking outrage among dancers.
Members of OUDT were shocked to find that some dancers’ awards had been downgraded as a punishment for taking part in a silent protest earlier this year. Meanwhile, others were awarded half blues, despite the fact that they had actually competed against Oxford for the majority of the year.
One of the requirements for receipt of a half blue, as explained on the Oxford University Dance Club website, is to have danced for the Blues Team at the Inter Varsity Dance Association.
However, three individuals who were awarded half blues this year did not represent the Blues at the IVDA competition. Instead, they represented the Featherwaits, an independent team, who competed against the Blues.
Formed in 2004, when a split took place within OUDC, the Featherwaits is made up of Oxford students, but is affiliated to Ruskin College rather than Oxford University. They are entirely independent from the Blues team, with separate training and sponsorship arrangements.
One of the dancers to have gained a half blue, despite dancing for the Featherwaits, was Tamasin Graham, current President of OUDC and captain of OUDT.
Some dancers fear that the Featherwaits are exerting undue authority over OUDC, and that this influenced the decision to award the three dancers with half blues.
As of Trinity Term of 2009, a change in the OUDC constitution saw the merging of President of OUDC and the captain of OUDT. This meant that the captaincy of the dance team is now cast by vote, of the several hundred members of OUDC, rather than to squad of dancers who represent the university.
Members of OUDT have long campaigned against the changes. These efforts came to a head at the Southern University Championship Competition in February 2010, where some dancers wore a white ribbon on their arm as an act of protest.
One participant in the white ribbon protest said, “We resorted to the white ribbons as we felt that all our routes of complaint were blocked, so there were no official channels we could go down.
“We had considered an official boycott but felt it would be unfair on other universities. So instead we chose to wear a discreet white ribbon.”
Following a complaint that was made about the white ribbons at the SUCC, the two Vice Captains had to appear before the Senior Member of OUDC and a member of the Sports Federation. However, no further action was taken at the time.
An email was circulated on Sunday to explain that a meeting had taken place with the Senior Member and the representative of the University’s Sports Strategy Committee. During this meeting, to discuss “how to deal with those who participated in the public demonstration at the SUDC.”
The email stated that the punishment for those involved in the protest was that their “awards have been reduced by one grade. This means that Blues have been reduced to Half-Blues, Half-Blues for men have been reduced to nothing and Second Team Colours for women have been reduced to nothing.”
A source close to OUDC said, “I think this is particularly unfair given that the white ribbon was a silent protest which did not involve any other universities, so it seems more like an attempt to clamp down on free speech.
“People have been stripped or downgraded based on hearsay, while others have escaped. What is even worse is the fact that many people have been awarded half blues despite not actually qualifying under the clubs and blues criteria.
“The best sports people should get the awards. A number of people who worked hard all year and brought success to Oxford were not recognised in the way that they should have been.”
Further controversy ensued shortly before this year’s Varsity match on 15th May. The former OUDC President stepped down, and was immediately replaced by the Vice President Tamasin Graham. Graham is also the Captain of the Featherwaits, and under the constitutional changes, she would become the captain of OUDT as well.
One dancer said, “This merging of roles means that the captain of OUDT is not necessarily someone on the dance team at all. OUDC and OUDT are phenomenally different organisations; no blues team anywhere else in Oxford would have a captain who is not even on the team.”
OUDC declined to comment at this stage. The Sports Federation confirmed that they were currently investigating the claims of unfair blues awards.
A spokesperson from the Sports Federation said, “If any member of an Oxford University Sports Club raises a concern with the Sports Federation about the operation of their Club, we are of course obliged to investigate. It is important to be aware that the awarding of Blues does not come under the Sports Federation’s general remit unless there has been a breach of a Sports Clubs’ constitutional requirements.
“Blues are awarded by the elected officer or officers, normally President or Captains, of OU Sports Clubs and the individual criteria set down for each individual awards are approved by the respective Blues Committees.
“However the Blues are not awarded by the Blues Committees, who simply oversee the sanctioning of individual Club statuses and the awarding of the Extraordinary and Discretionary Blues awards which fall out of the normal awarding process.”
One dancer commented, “We have such a strong team spirit and this has made us train even harder this past year, not for the Club but for each other. Oxford University had one of the most successful years ever last year, winning all team matches at the National Championships, and we also had a convincing Varsity victory.
Our team are international champions and we work incredibly hard; some of our dancers are top 25 in the country. Now having the Blues taken away makes people feel their efforts haven’t been appreciated. People have worked hard for this.”