The dance world is full of debates, and one of the fiercest surrounds the question: is competitive dance a sport? There’s few questions like this one that will get such a spirited discussion going. Read on to dive into the arguments for and against this divisive question.
Is Competitive Dance a Sport? Yes, Competitive Dance Is a Sport
Proponents of considering competitive dance a sport believe that dance’s athleticism and its harsh physical demands of the body put it on equal ground with recognized sports like football, soccer and field hockey. A first point pro-sporters might mention is that dance is similar to other disciplines that share dance’s artistic spirit yet are still considered sports, such as gymnastics and ice skating. Others take this point to the next level by arguing that competitive dance, by its very nature, could be classified as an Olympic sport.
Alonni Reid, a dancer herself, lays out this very argument in an article for the Buffalo News. She wrote that according to the International Olympic Committee, to be considered as an official Olympic sport, the activity needs to fit the following criteria:
Demonstrate clear emphasis on youth and development
Have a judging system that ensures objectivity, fairness and transparency
Be practiced by both men and women
Have long-term development and viability
Competitive dance meets all these requirements, and Reid argued that it should therefore be considered a sport by the public.
The rise in popularity of competitive dance has also exposed millions more Americans to the hard work, sacrifice and physical skill that it takes to be a dancer. Dancers need stamina, flexibility and endurance and must to be in peak physical shape to excel, just like a football player or a long-distance runner. These intense demands on the human body – and the sacrifices dancers make to train and improve – are another major argument why competitive dance should be considered a sport.
In an article on the increasing popularity of competitive dance, the New York Times interviewed Dennis Spitzer, a physical therapist whose daughter had begun dancing competitively.
“I played sports all my life, and I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as they do,” Sptizer said. “They are going out there to win. If they don’t win, they feel as badly as we do when we lose. It’s not dance. It’s a sport.”
Is Competitive Dance a Sport? No, Competitive Dance Is Not a Sport
“It’s not dance. It’s a sport,” might be an incendiary statement to those firmly in the camp that dance is indeed not a sport. The argument against considering competitive dance a sport largely boils down to the firm conviction that dance is an art form above all else. And according to this group, the rise of competitive dance has, in fact, taken dance even further away from its true essence.
Dance’s purpose is to enchant the audience, express emotion and tell an affecting story, argued Brittanly Kottler in an article for the Huffington Post. It’s not the impressive physical skills and “tricks” that are the focal point of ballet, rather, it’s the artistry and creative expression.
“The choreographed routines [showcased on competitive dance TV shows] strive for the “wow!” factor while simultaneously removing basic ballet technique and artistic freedom that has been taught to dancers around the world for centuries,” Kottler wrote. “The true “wow!” factor of ballet comes from the entire performance as a whole.”
Those who believe dance is a sport frequently cite dancers’ fierce competitiveness as evidence, however, Kottler refuted this idea as well, writing that “ballerinas are competitive with each other in the same way artists, musicians and actors are.”
Where proponents of dance as a sport state that gymnastics and ice skating are “artistic disciplines” that are classified as sports, others refute this by pointing to the fact that competitive dance has a more subjective scoring system compared to these two sports. Unlike in gymnastics and ice skating, there are no specific moves that dancers are required to include in their routines.
“Although dancers must be as strong as athletes, they should never substitute tricks for art,” responded Joan Robinson Borchers to a poll by Dance Spirit Magazine on whether dance should be in the Olympics. “We see far too much of that at various competitions how many fouettés can you pull off, instead of what story you can tell us through your dance. Skating and gymnastics can be beautiful to watch, but are hamstrung by having to do all those tricks. A dancer can and should be above all, an artist.”
And the Verdict Is …
There’s no denying competitive dancers are athletes, and there’s a long list of benefits of being a competitive dancer, such as expressing yourself through movement, keeping your body in top physical shape and having the opportunity to become one of the best in your discipline. There’s no easy answer, since many of the characteristics of competitive dance blur the line between art and sport. It’s possible, then, that the debate may just have to rage on. What do you think – is competitive dance a sport? Let us know in the comments.
The thought of improvising dance may make you nervous, but improvisation dance could be the secret to better choreography.
Just like taking a walk around the block helps clear a stressed mind, an hour of so of improv can spark creative ideas. In an interview with KQED News, Deana Criess, director of ImprovBoston’s National Touring Company, espoused the benefits of making things up as you go along. And even though her organization focuses on comedy, the inspiring power of improv is applicable across artistic and athletic disciplines.
Criess told the source that improv boosts quick thinking, helps clear away distracting thoughts that take us out of the moment and strengthens our communication skills and self-expression. Instead of constantly judging yourself for missing a step or being offbeat, improv dancing allows you to be spontaneous and tune in to your inner self.
Every dancer and choreographer is different, possessing a unique set of beliefs, values, talents and dreams, and the greatest joy of dancing comes from being able to be the best version of yourself. However, it’s easy for these one-of-a-kind attributes to become a little muddled when you’re constantly doing the same dances or formulating choreography with a repetitive, static approach.
By not worrying about directions and simply letting your body move the way you want it to, you’re able to identify certain motions that particularly connect with you, DanceSpirit Magazine noted. Connecting with your own preferences also helps you to better identify the unique styles of other dancers. You can then use this inspiration to breathe new life into your choreography and craft dances that respond to people’s strengths or challenge their weaknesses to improve.
Creating a “Toolkit”
Sometimes, choreographers fall into ruts where they use the same combinations of positions and skills over and over again. Improv can help you build a collection of new movements that you can then have at your disposal to keep your choreography fresh and exciting.
An article on Backstage.com profiled Helen Pickett, a dancer who teaches classes based on innovative choreographer William Forsythe’s improvisational technique. Forsythe would break improvisation into around 30 smaller, individual movements, which he called “modalities,” the site explained. These smaller movements, like collapsing and folding, then served as building blocks to create new dances.
“It opens up avenues that allow you to expand your ideas of what you thought you body could do,” said Pickett of the Forsythe method.
The thought of improv makes many people self-conscious, but the very act of exposing our unguarded selves to others helps improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. You learn that taking unexpected or approaches to problems can yield beautiful solutions, and let go of fear and self-doubt. Becoming more comfortable with thinking outside the box will help you expand the scope of what you believe you can achieve through your choreography. You also learn to trust yourself and to have faith in your unconventional ideas.
Tips for Improv
The first step to productive improvisation is casting all doubt, anxiety and self-consciousness aside. Don’t worry about what others will think of you, since improv is about getting in tune with your inner thoughts and artistic expression, not about others’ perceptions of your movement.
While you can simply turn on some music and start moving, a little structure can help guide your improv dance. Human Kinetics recommended following simple rules that force you to move creatively. For example, move in a circle on the floor, but only begin steps or movements with your left foot, or, go from one corner of the room to the other starting low to the floor and ending up as high above the floor as possible by the time you make it to the other side.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, not just music, and the site also suggested picking an art object or image that speaks to you and mimicking the patterns of shapes of the piece through movement, and then repeating your motions, observing how your movement changes in its reflection of the shapes. You can also pair each movement with an emotion that the artwork provokes in you, and move through each feeling as you mimic the patterns or shapes.
What skills set a dancer apart from the pack? Most studio owners and dance teachers might say technique, dedication, passion or stage presence. While these are all essential for pre-professional dancers, the best students also have a certain “je ne sais quoi” when it comes to music. This intangible quality is often referred to as musicality, and it is essential for dancers who want to take their performances to the next level. Here’s what instructors need to know about musicality in dance and how they can help dancers connect with the music.
If you ask professional dancers and choreographers to define musicality, you’d probably get a host of different answers. Some people might explain it simply as an understanding of music. Others may say that it’s letting the music guide your movements. Industry professionals know musicality when they see it, but still might have trouble putting the characteristic into words.
“Musicality is understanding music on a technical level and then dropping all of that knowledge so you can sit deep inside the music,” Wade Robson, choreographer and “So You Think You Can Dance” regular, explained to Dance Spirit magazine. “It’s dancing inside the music, as opposed to floating on top of it.”
Because musicality is a rather vague, intangible concept, there’s not one strict definition of this quality. However, most everyone agrees that musicality in dance sets professional dancers apart from amateurs. The question then becomes whether this innate understanding of music can be taught or if dancers just have to have it.
Introducing the Concept
As your dancers progress to more advanced classes, you’ll want to introduce them to the concept of musicality. Some students may already be able to connect with the music and they will likely understand the quality without too much explanation. However, dancers who are less musically inclined may have trouble melding the steps with the corresponding notes. Dance Spirit magazine explained that nonmusical dancers often show too much effort in their performances, but there are ways you can help them connect with the soundtrack.
Start teaching your students about musicality in dance by honing their ears. Individuals who have played instruments often catch on quicker than others, but the skill can be taught with dedication and practice. Have your dancers close their eyes and listen to the music. Ask them to think about the meaning of the song – even if it’s instrumental. Work together to plot out the different mood, tempo and phrase changes. It may also help to let them free dance to the piece so their bodies are guided by the music.
Honing Musical Intuition
Chances are that musicality won’t be perfected in one session. If your dancers are serious about furthering their skills, they’ll need to continue working on their musical intuition. You can help them practice by switching up your lessons once in a while and throwing them musical curve balls. Dance magazine suggested bringing in a live pianist for class or using different variations of the same song – orchestra arrangements, lyrical and instrumental versions all have slight differences that musically adept students will respond to.
“Orchestral music allows you to hear all the different colors of the instruments,” Finis Jhung, a ballet teacher in New York, told Dance magazine. “It gives you something to play with as an artist – it gives you more to hear.”
Given time, dedicated students will learn to apply musicality to their performances for a little extra pizzazz. Don’t let your dancers get discouraged if they struggle with the concept, as it’s hard to teach and even harder to learn.
Even if your dancers can execute their routine flawlessly, judges and audience members might still be able to tell that the performers are stressed, confused or frightened. How’s that? Through facial expressions.
Many communication experts believe that the messages we send to other people come predominantly from nonverbal cues. That’s why performers need to spend time working on their facial expressions, which can fundamentally affect the quality of their performance. Here are some dance teacher tips for teaching facial expressions to your budding young artists, as well as a few exercises that may aid your lessons.
Understanding the Importance
After you and your dancers spend hours and hours perfecting a performance, the last thing you want is for the piece to feel uncomfortable because of awkward facial expressions. Dance Spirit magazine explained that genuine nonverbal cues can add a level of authenticity to a performance and elevate it from good to great.
However, sometimes the “right” facial expressions aren’t the ones that come naturally. Many times young dancers are taught to simply put on a big smile. This may be endearing in beginner classes, but it certainly won’t cut it at more advanced competition levels.
“Facial expressions need to come from a real human place instead of being painted on,” Shelly Masenoir, a judge for the StarQuest and Applause Talent Competition, explained to Dance Spirit magazine. “Facial expression is not a costume that you put on. It’s a part of you and how you feel.”
It’s important for students to realize that their nonverbal communication doesn’t just come from their smiles. Dance Advantage noted that mouths, jaws and eyes can all show authentic emotion or a lack of connection. Your students need to exercise the same level of control of their facial expressions while dancing that they do over the rest of their bodies.
How to Practice and Improve Facial Expressions
When it comes time to practice those on-command “genuine” smiles, gather your class in front of a mirror. Demonstrate what judges will consider to be a false smile – lots of teeth and strained muscles – and then have your students practice more natural expressions.
The Rockettes blog recommended having dancers relax their jaws and tongues. If your students are particularly stiff, you might get them to loosen up by making a few silly faces.
Once everyone has relaxed their facial muscles, discuss ways to engage the audience with their eyes. Have them raise their eyebrows slightly, as if they were talking about something interesting. Instruct students to breathe in through their noses and out through their mouths. This will help them to keep a more natural smile with an open mouth.
Depending on the nature of the performance, you may want to tone down the facial expressions or give them a little more pizzazz. As with any dance skill, it will probably take some time and practice to get body language to where it needs to be.
Take a few minutes at the start or end of class to practice those facial expressions and make sure to give your students lots of honest feedback.
After a few lessons on facial expressions, you might want to consider taping a performance for your dancers to review. Watch the video together as a class and give constructive criticism on how the students could improve their nonverbal communication.
Discuss whether the dancers’ body language is appropriate for the mood and tone of the piece and brainstorm ways for the class to improve facial expressions together.