I 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:
|Hours of practice/day||7.5||2-8|
|Percentage of injuries/year||61%||264%|
|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.
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!