This week in the Washington Blade’s All Star series, we shine a spotlight on two LGBT athletes who are navigating their way through the costumes, music and theatrics of competitive dancesport.
Growing up in Milan, Italy, Alessandro Ghidini was drawn to sports that involved water. He competed in swimming and water polo before joining the varsity Olympic kayaking team at the University of Milan.
His studies to become an obstetrician-gynecologist brought him to the United States where he attended Yale for five years along with a fellowship in New York.
After arriving in D.C. in 1994, he returned to the water as a rower with the D.C. Strokes Rowing Club. Looking for something new, Ghidini joined a group that gave instruction in American Style ballroom dancing.
“It was a good match for me. As a physician, I am trained for perfection and polish,” Ghidini says. “Dancing takes coordination, balance and an awareness of muscles. It’s very meticulous as is stitching up a patient.”
Two years ago, Ghidini met coach Terry Chasteen of DanceSport Dupont Circle and began training in the International Style of ballroom dancing. A plan was formed to compete in the 2018 Gay Games in Paris, but finding the right partner proved difficult.
Chasteen was line dancing with the D.C. Rawhides and spotted a possibility in the form of Craig Louisy. A partnership was formed with all dance training pointed toward competing in Paris.
Louisy grew up in Saint Lucia and played multiple sports including tennis, karate, basketball and volleyball. Looking for a better life and education, he arrived in the D.C. area to attend Howard University. After medical school at Temple University in Philadelphia, he returned to the area for stints at Washington Hospital Center and the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
Louisy accepted a position as a locum tenens surgeon (traveling surgeon) and spent the next several years traveling through Maryland, South Dakota, Hawaii and North Carolina.
“Traveling so much made me feel disconnected. I couldn’t forge any lasting friendships and I knew it was time to establish some roots,” Louisy says. “When I returned to D.C., I joined the D.C. Rawhides. I always imagined myself on a stage, but my medical career took me in a different direction. The thoughts of dancing and performing were still a part of me.”
Ghidini and Louisy secured their dance steps and began the long hours of training to perfect them under Chasteen’s watchful eye. Not all dancesport competitions accept same-sex couples, so they selected welcoming competitions in Bethesda, New York and Columbus as tune-ups for Paris.
“The competitions were fun, challenging and brought out my competitive side,” Louisy says. “DanceSport has dusted off different parts of my brain and has given me the exact thing I was looking for — social interaction and fun.”
The pair arrived at the Paris Gay Games last August ready for their moment to perform on the international stage. They were entered in the Standard (waltz, tango and quick-step) and Latin (rhumba, jive and cha cha) categories.
When the dust settled, they had captured two silver medals and a bronze.
“It was such a sense of accomplishment after a year of practicing our steps and thinking about shoes, costumes and details,” Ghidini says. “The parade of athletes at the Gay Games opening ceremonies blew me away. Seeing athletes from anti-LGBT countries such as Cuba and Algeria brought tears to my eyes. I had family members there, including my husband, cheering us on. We were interviewed by French television stations and I felt so welcome.”
“It was everything I imagined it would be — an international convening of the LGBT community. It was a very positive environment and you could feel the energy of it,” Louisy says. “It made me proud to be gay and athletic; like I was exposing it to the world that our community comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. It felt important, like I was doing my civic duty.”
With such a great experience behind them, the pair are now training for the upcoming EuroGames in July in Rome.
“After losing our virginity in regard to competing in international sports, I am totally game to keep this going,” Ghidini says. “But it takes two to tango.”
Louisy says he’s in it for the long haul.
“We made a lot of friends from other countries and learned techniques from each other,” Louisy says. “It has given me structure and resulted in only positive things.”