The dictionary defines a sport as an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which people compete against each other for entertainment and by the looks of it, this definition seems to apply to dance as well. Many would jump at the mention of dance when talking about sports, however there are several explanations for the same.
Our bodies are like machines. In our daily lives, we hardly use the muscles and movement combinations that our bodies allow us to use. Dance, however, is on activity that persistently explores the various ways in which the human body can be manoeuvred, seeking newness, creativity and a break with the conventional ways.
Dancers, as individuals or as part of a team, put in twenty hours a week in order to make their performances look effortless, to make every move look fluid, sharp, and clean. Dance, as an activity, involves and demands the same physical abilities that are vital for sports- strength, resistance, flexibility, stability, and endurance, to name a few. These are some characteristics that dancers must possess, and for those who do not born with these attributes, they must develop and refine them through consistent practice and training.
Much like the standard sports practices and training sessions, dance rehearsals happen to be just as long, at times even longer, and they call for strenuous efforts, hard-work, dedication, and patience from the dancers as they are required to do their exercises and stretches in repetition in order to polish up on their techniques and movements. In an interview, a dancer from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre stated that her hectic dance schedule started off with about an hour of stretching, to warm up, which was then followed by an hour and a half long ballet class, after which she had an hour of pointe. After a break of one hour for food, and then they get back to the grind with two more sessions that last for an hour and a half each.
Going beyond the physical characteristics, dance also required certain mental abilities, comparable to those in sports, wherein the athletes are supposed to memorise various ways and techniques of play. Dancers are required to memorise each and every step, every technique, every transition in the positioning, for which they also have to learn every bit of the song by heart to be able to anticipate their moves, and at times, even improvise; and that makes dance no less than a sport.
Dance consists of certain rules and a strict code of conduct that are dancers are meant to follow. For example, Jazz was originated sometime between the 1800s and the 1900s, by the African Americans, and even though it’s a different genre from Ballet, Jazz acquires most of its techniques and rules from Ballet, for example, high extensions and turnout, just like in football, for instance, dribbling is a crucial part of the game and one technique that every player has to brush up on.
When talking about whether not dance can be considered as a sport, yet another question arises: are dancers athletes? Now, going back to the definition of a sport, dance is most certainly a highly athletic activity. It is even recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee. Despite facing major resistance, when it comes to giving dance the same title or appreciation as sports, dancers are, without a doubt, some of the most athletic people in the world.
A study was conducted by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research wherein professional dancers were compared to athletes in terms of their physical and athletic capabilities. The study showed that dancers have greater aerobic capacity, higher endurance in the muscles due to their capacity jump really high, much higher flexibility, the ability to spend longer periods of time working their muscle and better agility. They possess exceedingly strong core muscles for the turns, very tough and wrong leg muscles for extensions and leaps, and extremely sturdy and muscular arms for all the lifts, to name a few examples.
Both dancers and athletes have professions that are likely to be put in jeopardy by injury and therefore, the conditioning, and health and body care practices that they follow are also similar. Due to the media recognising dance as a fitness practice, it is now mostly seen by people as a way to stay in shape. It could be argued that anything that the dancers do on the stage, all of their moves, are all about mastering the physical aspect and have less to do with being artistic.
While we are trying to establish in this blog how the physical attributes of dancers are, to a great extent, similar to those of athletes, we can’t deny the fact that dance is an art too, and art is not just limited to physical skill and dexterity, it also involves musicality, expression, and creativity.
At an audition or during a performance, the dancer may have excellent skill and technicality but if the dancer does not have the ability to stimulate the audience, and to really feel and dance with the music, then they might not be considered to live up to the standards of being a good dancer. Most dancers feel that if they start to be considered as athletic, their talent and ability would be brought down to just their physical skill, whereas it is the pure rapture and exhilaration of dance that drives a dancer to pursue the training for years and years to come.
Hence, it can be said that dancers, in many ways, are athletes, however, they are artists as well and it is the amalgamation of the two that makes for a marvellous emotional and physical performance.