The human body is an amazing machine and in everyday life we use merely a fraction of the muscles and movement permutations available to us. Contemporary dance is one dance genre that constantly explores the movements of the body striving for innovation and originality.
As knowledge about the body increases, dance training improves and the competition for excellence paired with innovation is greater, dancers bodies are pushed to the limits. The physical ability and disciplines expected of a dancer can be easily related to those of an athlete and increasingly, dance critics are describing dancers as athletic.
So, can we consider dancers as athletes? Why might some people in the dance profession and in sport be unwillingly to accept this concept?
Firstly, let us consider the definition of athlete; a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill. A dancer must certainly achieve physical agility, stamina and strength in their profession and physical skill must be mastered. Daily training involves repetition of exercises to achieve the physical attributes necessary to execute movements required of a dancer, however the focus is not on sport or games. Whilst many dancers will compete in contests and will audition against other dancers for a place in a company the real emphasis in dance is on the performance itself. There is an element of competition across the dance profession but the reward is a particular role in a company or a promotion from chorus to soloist rather than a gold medal.
The thrust of dance as fitness into mainstream media has made dance popular as a means of keeping in shape. When an audience member who has experienced dance goes to see a professional company they may appreciate better the skill and physical fitness required to achieve such feats. When dance critics describe companies as athletic readers may relate to the concept through experience of athleticism at the gym or on the football field.
Whilst it is clear that the physical attributes of a dancer are similar to those of an athlete, dance is considered an art form and there is much more to the art than physical skill and virtuosity. Musicality, expression and creativity are often included in the criteria of what makes a good dancer. In auditions and competitions the technical skill of a dancer can be near to perfect but if they do not have the ability to evoke the viewers and dance with the music then they will not necessarily fulfil the criteria. Dancers may be feel that if they are described as athletic their ability is being reduced to their physical skill alone whereas it is the joy of dance that will drive a dancer to continue their training at such a pace for so many years.
In many respects dancers are athletes but they are also artists and it is this combination that makes for a stunning emotional and physical performance.