The Sport of Dance


This post is in honor of NATIONAL DANCE DAY!

This week on one of my favorite shows, So You Think You Can Dance, executive producer, Nigel Lythgoe made an announcement. He stated that in addition to being crowned “America’s Favorite Dancer,” winning $250,000 and appearing on the cover of Dance Spirit Magazine, the winner of So You Think You Can Dance would be recognized as Gatorade’s first dancer athlete. Along with this comes the announcement that Gatorade will recognize dance as a sport.

I’ve browsed some blogs and discussions since the announcement to see what the general reaction has been to the news and I’ve been surprised to see it’s mostly negative so far. People have posted everything from “Dance is not a sport!” to “Does this mean cheerleading is a sport now too?” to “Who really freakin‘ cares?”

I happen to be very opinionated on this topic. For the purpose of my arguments, let me be clear. I’m talking about Dance Teams, at both the collegiate and high school level. Dance studios often compete as well but I think that is a different story that I won’t delve into (or else this would be more of a tome than a post).

Unfortunately, one of the reasons I care about dance being recognized is a sport is: money. All through high school our team was denied funding because we were not an official varsity sport. Though our team qualified for a national competition every year I was in high school (a huge accomplishment), we never could afford to pay for registration, air fare, and accommodations for 20 girls to travel to Florida where Nationals was held. We watched as other sports teams traveled to state, regional and even national competitions and brought trophies and glory back to our little hometown. Though we excelled in every local competition we could afford to compete in, we never got the chance to compete at more than a state level. Though we brought home innumerable trophies, we never got the recognition that the other sports teams did.

For a few lucky dance teams, this stops at the college level. Some division I schools cover the expenses for their teams to compete at the national level, and some dancers even receive scholarships to attend a school and dance on the team there. But for the vast majority of us, it’s the same old story. Football, basketball, soccer, all the big varsity sports receive the scholarships, the warm up suits, and most importantly, the funding. The club sports (which can include cheerleading, ultimate Frisbee, rugby, lacrosse and dance teams) are given a fraction of what varsity teams get, and left to fund raise the rest…which can be a LOT of money. Every year on my college team we spend several hundred dollars out-of-pocket (per dancer) for camps, costumes, clothes, shoes, a choreographer, registration fees, hotel rooms, and air fare.

So yes, part of it is about the money. Maybe Gatorade recognizing dance as a sport isn’t going to change everyone’s mind and send a few thousand dollars our way instead of a few hundred from the school, but it’s a step in the right direction. As a friend of mine said, “one small step for man, one giant LEAP (literally!) for dancers!”

More importantly (and why I get all riled up when the subject is discussed), dance being considered a sport is about respect. The topic of whether dancing is athletic, challenging, or a sport is a touchy one with many of us, it’s even been known to start fist fights…(eh hem – CC – eh hem). Dance Teams work just as hard as any varsity sport at the college level. We practice often, hard, early, late, on the weekends, for hours on end. We work out outside of practice time, we drill dances over and over again until they’re flawless. We can spend two hours going over two eight counts of a dance adjusting wrist placement, facings, formations and timing. We push ourselves to the point of exhaustion, fighting through sprained ankles, broken toes, sickness and strained muscles. I’m not saying we work harder than anyone else, I’m saying we’re on the same level. It is an insult when some jock scoff’s at our team, laughing that anyone could do what we do. That dancing is not that hard, and certainly not a sport.

Yeah? I’d like to see you hold your leg over your head. I’d like to see you spin on the balls of your feet for four counts of eight, one leg extended in second. I’d like to see you do a split. I’d like to see you do a toe touch, I’d like to see you do any sort of dance move exactly the same as the person next to you so that you are practically clones, so that your team is not 20 dancers, it’s a single moving body, one soul, one heart.

So don’t tell me that what I do isn’t a sport, that it’s not hard, that it doesn’t take any sort of athletic skill.

I concede that there are a lot of people out there who disagree with me. I suppose I respect your right to disagree, even if I don’t respect your opinion. I also realize that the discussion of dance as a sport opens up discussion to whether other things should be considered a sport, like cheerleading or synchronized swimming (although, that one’s in the Olympics, so I think that makes it a sport). I guess it’s a matter of opinion…and I’ve made mine quite clear I think 🙂

And now I leave you with a video of one of my all-time favorite dance team performances. I give you the UDA College Dance Team National Championship 2004 champions:

** Update 10/24/10 **
It\'s Official, Gatorade named Lauren Froderman their first dancer athlete!
“Dancers are the athletes of God.” -Albert Einstein

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About MMM

Resolving to write in 2011!
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One Response to The Sport of Dance

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