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!

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