Tag Archives: athletes

Is Dance a Sport–and Should We Want it to Be?

I was planning on writing a post a post to discuss whether or not dance should be considered a sport, but Misty Copeland’s ad proved that dancers are athletes in less than 120 seconds.  Don’t believe me?

She has more muscle in her calves than I have in my entire body.

Sometimes a gif is worth a thousand words.

The real question is not whether or not dance is athletic enough to be a sport, but do we want it to be one? 

Risa Gary Kaplowitz writes in her article on Huffington Post that  in response to the “Olympian approach to ballet” and other dance disciplines is making dancers lose their artistic edge in order to focus on gaining an athletic one (read the whole article if you have time–it’s a great read!).

Some might not see a problem with this approach.  It’s easy to applaud the backbreaking, leg-splitting, gravity-defying tricks that are so popular today, but I think Kaplowitz points out an important trend that dancers should be aware of.

In making dance a sport, we then confine it to rules, and its dancers to mere players.  In creating rules, we make breaking them a taboo.  And yet dance thrives on breaking rules and doing the unexpected.

As artists, we have the freedom to be our own agents.  A basketball player may comment on the game, but rarely does their opinion matter on the outcome of the final score.  A dancer’s interpretation of the dance steps can completely change the meaning of the piece.

Take for example, these two different interpretations of “Too Darn Hot,” a musical theater and dance competition fave.

Both dances are amazing.  In the first clip from Season 10 of So You Think You Can Dance, Makenzie Dustman’s long legs flash through our ennui.  We can appreciate the flawless execution of the lightning fast turns and sizzling footwork.  Right from the start, Mackenzie’s limb-tearing extension promises us a show, and delivers.

In the second clip, performed by the UK cast of Kiss me Kate, you can practically see sweat dripping off the languid yet sensual movements of the dancers. It’s a feeling many of us can sympathize with (particularly if you’re caught in this heat wave in California at the moment).  Whereas the first clip promised to wow me from the first developée, I was constantly surprised at the turns the dance took in the second.

Both dances were performed by professionals.  Both featured amazing extension, technique, and tricks. So who’s the winner? 

No one—and that’s the beauty of dance as an art form and not a sport. Both dances are saying different things: the first seems to say that their moves are too hot for the rest of us, whereas the second revels the delicious yet draining heat.  If dance were a sport, once would have to be deemed “better” than the other.

Dance is a form of expression.  It is a universal language that can be found in every culture.  It is a way around the rules of language, borders, class.  For every social or political line that exists, there is a dancer toeing their way around it.

Why would we give up that freedom for a trophy cabinet?

Bonus question!  Which version of “Too Darn Hot” did you like best?  I personally love the fun surprises and comedy (particularly the trio around 7:15) of the UK Kiss Me Kate cast, but I’m also a musical theater nerd, so I’m  predisposed.  Speak up in the comments, or on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

Football vs Ballet

Misty vs FootballI came into this article expecting to find irrefutable proof that dancers easily outdistance their competition.  I remember back in high school when a football player challenged a girl who took spent about four hours dancing after school each day to a push up contest—and she beat the pants off of him.  I thought that when I wrote up the details of football vs ballet, the winner would be clear.

The results surprised me.

I won’t say that I’m completely biased against football—but I will admit that I may be just a bit jealous because football players get paid millions of dollars more than their dancing counterparts, or because most people in the US have at least one favorite football team, but couldn’t care less about their local dance company.

It wasn’t that football players were far above dancers in the stats–but it was how similar the two disciplines were. The more I researched, the more surprised I was to see similar correlations between reasons for injuries, longevity in the profession, and hours of practice though really, I shouldn’t have been–they’re both athletic activities that depend on perfect physical execution).  This table below is just the tip of the iceberg of what I uncovered:

Ballet Football
Calories/hour 600 656
Hours of practice/day 7.5 2-8
Percentage of injuries/year 61% 264%
BMI 13-18.5 18.5-24.9
Average Retirement Age 34 28
Average Salary $22,516-100,000 $4-14 million

You can tell just from this small chart alone what some of the advantages and disadvantages of each activity are.  It’s one thing to think about the injuries a football player sustains when it happens on screen—it’s another to see how the numbers add up.

It’s also another thing to hear about eating disorders in dancers and to see the hard evidence in their BMIs.  The lowest healthy BMI for women is about 18.5—to see that that number is the highest of the range for professional dancers, and should be a wake up call to those in the field.

It was amazing to see the similarities between these two disciplines that seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.  It also introduced another difficult point: how do you determine the winner?  Football players certainly have much higher incomes, but an astronomically higher injury rates.  Dancers have a longer careers, but only by a slim margin.  Both dancers and football players are put under extreme stress during their primes, but dancers have a much healthier mental state after they retire.

Footballer in ballet
It’ll probably come out a tie in the end, but it’s a great excuse to post pics of football players doing ballet in the meanwhile!!

A disclaimer: Research on the impact of sports and dance on both mental and physical health is an emerging field, so bear with me on some of the numbers.  As football and ballet are two very different disciplines, there won’t always be exact crossovers in the data, as ABT is going to report different data than the NFL will (for example, most reported dance injuries were sprains, breaks, and other muscle and bone-related injuries.  The most prominent NFL injury statistics ignore sprains almost completely and focus on concussions).  What I aim to do is present the big picture, and maybe those with the money and resources to research these ideas properly will follow up!