Dance – Is it a sport?
What is a sport anyway? An activity, usually of a physical nature, where participants compete to win based on a specific set of criteria or other outside apparatus for measuring success, i.e. a stop watch to determine the winning time in a race. Dance has recently taken on the guise of a sport, in that it has been used as a vehicle for students to test their accomplishments. Dance competitions range from small local events where students are recognized with simple applause or a small trophy, to elite international competitions where a budding artists’ future can be decided by winning a full-year paid contract with the world’s most prestigious dance organizations and thousands of dollars in awards. The purpose of sport is to test skill, mastery, endurance, often setting world record times for the completion of a particular event. Years of training, practice, failure, more practice and hopefully success contribute to competition at the highest levels of any sport. And in this respect, dance certainly fits these criteria for accomplishment. And in reciprocal, some athletes exhibit such mastery over their chosen field of competition as to bring light and and an almost super-human quality to their efforts and accomplishments, as if one is watching art in motion as they execute their sport.
However, there is a more primal and ancient aspect to dance, one that has been present in our collective psyche since the beginning of humanity itself, that sets it significantly apart from sport of any kind. It’s ability to have emotional, intellectual and even spiritual effect on those who participate in it and in those who observe its creation, and performance. By comparison sport can exist and fulfill its purpose with only the competitors involved. Dance, by contrast, intrinsically involves not only the dancer, but the observer—the audience….and the synergistic exchange that exists between them. “Art is created when an artist creates a beautiful object, or produces a stimulating experience that is considered by his audience to have artistic merit.”(http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/art-definition.htm#definition).
At the highest levels, dance requires about a decade of training, coaching and developed experience. To truly excel it requires a complete and total life commitment to its study, and is therefore considered one of the fine arts. But even from the most primitive tribal celebration dance to the most intricate classical ballet choreography, the experience of dance is all-encompassing. The physicality of human movement and interaction and the visual experience for its audience provides tactile and sensory input. The content of the subject matter, as well as the psychological and emotional meaning and sub-context of the story (if there is one), or simply the aesthetic beauty of the choreography/physical form of the dancers themselves provide mental stimulation and emotional response. In the most masterful performances, all aspects come together at their peak: purity of physical form, mastery of technical movement, inspiration of choreographic content, depth of emotional understanding and the ability of the artists to bring to life the combination of music, movement, storyline and philosophical sub-context, emotional content and portrayal of character. These rare events can have profound influence on those involved, both on the stage in unforgettable performing experiences of the dancers, as well as in their audience. Many are moved to tears of despair or shouts of elation, or even have made life-changing decisions to follow a different path, or even change professions, or even move to a different continent in order to pursue support of the artists and the art that was able to provide such a transformative experience. Such is the power of art.