Pastime, sport, or art?

An investigation of dance

Kenadi Browne, Staff Writer

Ask the person next to you if dance is a sport. You’ll likely hear several answers: dance is a sport because it’s athletic, or it’s not because it’s an art, or dance isn’t a sport at all because all ballerinas do is twirl on their toes. Dancers—and many non-dancers who think they’re allowed to have an opinion on the topic—have argued about this for years. This debate raises a question: what exactly is a “sport”?

The definition of a sport, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Many dancers will fiercely defend dancing this way because they feel that it deserves to be appreciated as a legitimate physical activity. And yes, dance certainly does deserve recognition as a physical skill. Ballerinas don’t just spin around with their arms above their heads. Years of training and hard work go into looking graceful on stage, as much as is required for a traditional sport, and maybe even more.
So, yes, dance includes all the characteristics of the dictionary definition of a sport. But is it really one?

No. It’s more than that. Dancing is first and foremost an art.

The definition of an art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” This definition fits dance much better.

A dancer begins with a specifically chosen piece of music. With carefully placed body movement, dancers take that music and create something beautiful, something incredibly moving, that expresses the emotion of the music in a visual way to their audience. The emotion that dancers evoke in their audience through music defines dancing as something different and more passionate than a sport. This is the crucial element of the art of dancing. Without music, and the emotion that accompanies it, dancers are merely the ballerinas in jewelry boxes—no purpose, no passion, no love.

I have watched dances that have left me speechless, and dances that have brought me to tears. That is the power of a beautiful art, not of a physical sport. How many times have you cried over the beauty of a football team? Dancing absolutely requires physical skill, but it is also a very emotional way to express oneself. To simply define dancing as a sport is to underrate its beauty and emotion. Its artistry shows the audience something deeply emotional, contrasting with the crazed passion of sports fans.

As a dancer, I define dance as an athletic art as it seems to fit under the definitions of both “sport” and “art.” Dancers are definitely strong athletes. There’s no question about it. But there is also something beautiful, something artistic, something indescribably emotional, that comes from dancing. And it cannot be represented simply with the word “sport.”