With the upcoming IRONMAN 70.3 in Tempe on October 18 quickly approaching, we thought it would be a good time to look back at some of Ragen’s past athletic glories. In particular, her seemingly impressive claim to be a “three time national dance champion”. Until relatively recently, information about Ragen’s dance titles was impossible to locate; the event results no longer appear on the dance circuit’s web site, and she consistently ignored all requests about them. It got to the point where she was making up stories about trolls while still carefully not revealing any real information. There was speculation she had only won a single uncontested title that even made it to this blog (we have since added a note to the post). In July 2014, information about Ragen’s dance titles was located using the Internet Archive, and it immediately became obvious why she hadn’t revealed the details.
Ragen competed in the American Country Dance Association, a small country western dance circuit that operates in four states and used to be called the “Fun Country” dance circuit. The generally recognized standard for competitive country western dancing is the much larger United Country Western Dance Council, an international organization that operates in 20 countries and holds major national and international competitions. The ACDA is considered a “pay to win” dance circuit, in that they hold events with so many categories and levels almost everyone will win a title at some point. Every year they have a “national dance championship” event. There is no pre-qualifying, and in practice the only difference from any other ACDA event is the name. Competitors show up and pay the entry fee, and their only competition on the way to becoming a “national dance champion” is whoever else happens to sign up for their individual categories. Many title categories have only one, two, or three competitors, so some dancers even become “national champions” by default. To give an idea of the scale of an ACDA national dance championship event, there is a video of group dancing from 2007 on YouTube.
Ragen won two dance titles at the 2004 ACDA national championships in the “newcomer” and “division IV” levels, against one and two competitors, respectively. Newcomer and Division IV are the two lowest possible open levels at any ACDA event. The ACDA describes them as non-competitive dancing for novice students with “minimal dance training” who have never competed in an interstate dance competition. They are summarized as “the social bridge to competitive dancing”. Looking at results for these events, it is obvious very few people actually dance at this level.
FEMALE PRO-AM OPEN NEWCOMER ( FOB )
1 112 RAGEN CHASTAIN & ROWDY DUFRENE “AUSTIN, TX”
2 189 SALETHA C. & BOB C. “SHREVEPORT, LA”
DIVISION IV ( DV4 )
1 113 ANDREW BYALA & RAGEN CHASTAIN “AUSTIN, TX”
2 164 JOE W. & DIANE F. “RINGGOLD, LA”
3 116 DAVID & GAYLE C. “TULSA, OK”
The following year, Ragen won her third and final title at the 2005 ACDA national championships in the Division III level, “the first level of competitive dancing”. She had only one competitor.
DIVISION III ( DV3 )
1 200 ANDREW BYALA & RAGEN CHASTAIN “AUSTIN, TX”
2 314 DOMINICK L. & JOAN B. “AUSTIN, TX”
At the 2005 event, Ragen sustained an ankle injury so severe it took her almost seven months to recover. ACDA records show she spent several more years attempting to compete at higher levels, where she either “won” uncontested showcases or placed dead last whenever anyone else was competing. She frequently wrote about how much her weight was holding back her dancing. In late 2008, after coming in last place at the LoneStar Invitation 2008, she announced she was “moving up into the professional division” with her new dance partner. There is no evidence Ragen ever competed at a higher level or won any remotely significant dance titles after 2005. A few weeks later, she started calling herself a professional dancer and then “retired” from competitive dancing.
In summary, Ragen is indeed technically a “three time national dance champion”. She won her titles at events called “national championships”, in a small regional pay to win dance circuit with minimal competition, at a level so low almost nobody else bothered to enter. Two of her titles are for specifically non-competitive social dancing, and the third is at the lowest possible novice level of competition against one other couple. She injured herself so badly competing at this level that she couldn’t dance for over half a year. Her weight kept her from advancing any further, and she eventually gave up completely a few years later. After declaring herself a professional dancer and fat activist, she made every effort to obscure the details of her dance titles and competitive dancing history so they would appear to be more impressive. Like her 12:20 “marathon” and many of her other achievements, she relies on obfuscation and technicalities rather than hard work and real effort. Ragen is a “national dance champion” in name alone, and her remarkably unsuccessful competitive dancing career is a testament to how much her weight has truly cost her.