When will dancers be considered athletes?

What is it about dance that creates a non-athletic hypothesis in our mind and gives off a leisurely,unserious activity (not a sport)? When I watch "ESPN" or "Sports Center" I rarely, if not ever, see the highlights of a dance competition. It has always been the top ten plays or follow-up results involving either baseball, basketball, football, soccer, or sometimes golf. Besides golf, of course, all the other words listed are either contact or "teamwork" sports (teamwork meaning: the athletes depend on themselves and other athletes by passing, throwing, or hitting off another teammate in order to win or lose a game). In the article "Competing in Creativity," Elizabeth Zimmerman states that every spring the National Collegiate Athletic Association sponsors a college basketball tournament. Simultaneously the American College Dance Festival Association holds 10 regional conferences. But while the NCAA's "March Madness" dominates the sports media for weeks on end, when was the last time you heard a word about the ACDFA? It may not be front-page news, but ACDFA's annual events are as central to college dancers as the NCAA's are to basketball players (76). This is a perfect example at how the professional television programs have in the past and are continuing to categorize a "real" sport from an activity, or a "not-so-important" sport. After conducting those interviews with a student majoring in the dance program that has been dancing for year after year and a non-dancer, three-sport athlete; it shows a clear imbalance of where we as individuals (mostly) stand in the assumption of "real" and "fake" sports. Zimmerman concludes her introductory thought by saying dance is not equivalent to basketball, where you either make the shot or you don't. The aesthetics and ideas about craft in choreography, and stands of performance--ultimately it's a subjective judgement. Dance is now in the mainstream consciousness as a competitive activity. Most dance competitions are all about technique; the standards are clearer and this is a competition around creativity (76). Rachel Howard, a former dance critic of the San Francisco Examiner, explains how Roni Mahler (an artistic associate for Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley) had once been just as guilty of underestimating sports players as the "ESPN" ad writers were of denigrating dancers (92). In the article, Mahler goes on to explain to Howard how one day she was teaching a dance class that included football players and she asked the students to dance around the room. She turned to the athletes and said, "Oh, you guys don't have to do this," assuming they'd feel embarrassed (96). Throughout all of my research dealing with dancing/stereotypes in comparison to athletes, after reading this article I am just now starting to see how badly dancers have been cliche-ridden. Not only did Mahler suggest that the football players might feel embarrassed while performing the SPORT of dance, she did it without them even hinting the possibility of embarrassment. It is one thing to try and protect someone from participating in something that they are obviously going to be self-conscious about,but the fact of the matter is she automatically assumed they would be humiliated in the first place. In addition to Mahler's initial judgement, she later found out that the players soon discovered ballet training delivered some real benefits. Using turnout to rotate legs from the hips helps to strengthen smaller, more injury-susceptible muscles in ways working in parrallel can't. By engaging what Pilates practitioners call the "smile muscles" beneath the gluteus and around the pelvis. By practicing changement and tendu, players gained improved flexibility in their ankles and feet, which translated to increased agility come game time (92-93). 


Mahler, a sports fan, spotted the connections between sports and ballet after her parents took her to a baseball game at Yankee Stadium.

A shortstop does a huge chasse' (a gliding step in dancing in which one foot displaces the other) before releasing the ball and for both ballet and baseball you need strong ankles and knees. Swann, a volunteer as a spokesman for Pittsburg Ballet Theatre, emphasizes that certain dance movements are fundamental to the movements you need to make in sports. A basketball player can't jump without doing a plie'(a movement in which the dancer bends the knees and straightens them again, usually with the feet turned out and heals firmly on the groud). It may not be graceful and deep with your feet turned out, but it's the samething (93). It is amazing how certain people (like the non-dancer I interviewed) can have such a strong opinion on something they have absolutely no idea about. Swann made a very observant and unique consideration by pointing out the qualities and techniques dancers have are also the same kind other athletes use; such as basketaball or baseball. Yiannis Koutedakis exclaims that although differences exist between one dance form and another, and between dance and other forms of athletic activity, it is the similarities between the disciplines of sport and dance that count. As in sport, dance performance is not a single act. It is rather complex phenomenon depending on a large number of elements with direct and indirect effects (651-652).