If Dmitri Moua, 16, had a personal dance style, it would be hard-hitting jazz.
“The hard-hitting comes from kick,” said Moua.
Even though Moua, a junior at Roseville Area High School, loves to dance, he wasn’t always a dancer. His first passion was theater, where he had been performing in plays since seventh grade. At the end of his freshman year, he decided to join the dance team. It was a perfect fit.
“You’re not really limited when you dance; you’re just free-moving, allowed to do whatever you want,” he said. “You’re allowed to express yourself without being restricted to certain rules.”
But there is one rule: No boys allowed. His sophomore year, Moua wanted to move from extracurricular dance to the competitive dance team, but he was told he couldn’t try out based on his gender. Under Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Title IX regulations, boys cannot join competitive dance team.
“When you’re told you can’t do something, you’re like, ‘Maybe I can’t,’ so your motivation is deflated,” said Moua.
On July 25, Moua and Zachary Greenwald sued the league, which governs athletic and fine arts competitions for high schools, alleging it is unconstitutional to prohibit boys from joining competitive high school dance teams.
The federal lawsuit, filed by Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest and personal liberty law firm, argues, “because MSHSL’s policy overtly discriminates on the basis of sex, it violates both the 14th Amendment and Title IX.”
The league does not comment on any pending lawsuits, said spokesman Tim Leighton. Roseville Area High School said in an e-mail response that it “follows the student eligibility rules and regulations established by the Minnesota State High School League.” The school offered no further comment.
Moua and Greenwald have never met, but they share a similar goal. Greenwald, a junior at Hopkins High School, began dancing in fifth grade, according to the lawsuit.
“I would hope that they would allow boys to dance so that it’d give more opportunities for dance to be more inclusive,” said Moua.
Not the first time
The boys’ case isn’t the first of its kind filed against the High School League.
In 2017, Kaiden Johnson, at the time a sophomore at Superior High School in Wisconsin, filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education because the MSHSL wouldn’t let him compete with his high school dance team. (Wisconsin allows boys on dance teams, but the school was competing in a Minnesota-based conference, which it has since left.)
After hearing about Johnson’s case, Moua and his family decided to also take legal action to let him compete in the sport he loves.
“I’ve tried tennis and nordic skiing and all this other stuff,” said Moua. “I think it’s just that team atmosphere with all my friends and coaches that I was like, ‘This is it.’ ”
Moua said he mostly practices with friends from the team or along with YouTube videos at home. He’ll rearrange the furniture in the living room to make space, which can get messy when a kick goes awry.
“It’s good to see him practice at home,” said Boa Xiong, his mother. “It’s frustrating when he knocks things down.”
Moua is the only male member of the Roseville Area High School dance team. As with other sports, the MSHSL oversees only the official high school season, which is during the winter for dance, while other bodies govern offseason competitions. Those rules allow boys on the teams, which means that Moua can participate the rest of the year.
During last year’s competitive winter season, he was a student manager for the team, videotaping performances and cheering on teammates from the sideline.
“I felt like all the work that I put in wouldn’t be shown because I couldn’t compete,” said Moua. “Even if I learn all the dances by myself, practice in my room, practice with friends during gym class, that all that wouldn’t really matter.”
Lots of support
Xiong said she supports her son as much as she can.
“It’s like any parent who has a kid in a sport or an activity — you’re excited to see them, you cheer them on,” she said. “It would be really nice to see him on the floor dancing.”
Moua said the team is supportive and they help cheer him on, sometimes even teaching him the competitive routines they learned in practice. With fall season approaching, the team will spend the time learning hip-hop and pom routines, sometimes performing at football games.
Moua said it’s another way for the team to “maintain [our] bodies and practice skills for winter” — when he’ll be back on the sidelines.
“I just want to be able to dance with my team,” said Moua.