By: Susan Angell-Gonzalez(President/CEO ShowMakers of America / Former Texas State University Strutters Director/Choreographer)
There is controversy that exists as to whether dancers are “athletes”. As a professional who has coached thousands of skilled dancers in a span of 40-years, I believe that all dancers are athletes, but not all athletes are dancers. The skills performed with their bodies’ demand strength, agility and balance. Dancers play like a team, and when they perform as a group, they work as a collective. Some typical qualities of an athlete include speed, flexibility, strength, endurance, balance, agility, and coordination. ALL of these same qualities are seen in skilled dancers. When watching and analyzing the movements along with the physical ability that it takes for a dancer to perform technical skills, there is no question that highly skilled dancers are athletes. Is dancing considered a sport? According to Wikipedia, a “Sport is all forms of competitive physical activity which, through casual or organized participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical fitness and provide entertainment to participants. Sports are generally recognized as activities which are based in physical athleticism or physical dexterity.” In argument, dance has the same amount of requirements that any sport does. For a dance team, dancing is tougher as their season is year-round. In sports, the downtime is greater because the season is usually only a few months long.
Several learning institutions around the United States are beginning to acknowledge dance as a sport and dancers as “elite” athletes and artists. During my time as Director/Choreographer of the Texas State University Strutters, my students were recognized as student athletes and were given many of the same perks that sport athletes received. In addition, the Strutters were granted credit in Health and Human Performance each semester.
Components to consider:
Athletes & Artists
Dancers are “elite” athletes as well as artists. They are “finely-tuned” athletes! Dancers must look perfect, showing off clean lines, muscular backs and legs. As we all know, dancers have an extraordinary range of flexibility and muscular strength. They move on a level far beyond athleticism. Dancers have speed, agility, power, precision, balance, and endurance (all of the things that define an athlete). Additionally, there is grace, beauty, form, emotion, and the power of communication that is expressed through dance movement. What separates dancers from sport athletes is artistry (there can also be artistry in athleticism to a point). Dance Teams perform as a group with precision, energy and style. Basketball players do not think about their arm extension in relation to their shoulder. Dancers think about placement and take everything to the next level! To dance is to move on a level far beyond athleticism. Yes, there is speed, power, balance, and endurance (all the things that define an athlete). But again, there is grace, beauty, form, emotion, and the power of communication (it is an art form). A dancer must be able to react more quickly with more balance and control (and be able to demonstrate explosive strength). A dancer must also be able to turn without throwing oneself into it and stop cleanly without losing balance. Dancers DO have the strength, endurance, muscularity, devotion, and skill of any sports player. They are considered “athletic artists” and not “artistic athletes”.
Athleticism has to be developed through training. In addition to sport athletes, dancers follow a rigorous training regime and must stay in peak condition. For the most part, dancers have extraordinary flexibility/joint mobility, muscular strength, and both dancers and sport athletes have physical and mental endurance. Many high school and college dance teams train and rehearse every day. They incorporate into their workout cross-training with cardio, weightlifting, Yoga/Pilates to improve their physical fitness and technique. While aesthetic goals are of the utmost importance, dancers remain subject to the same unyielding physical laws as sport athletes. Because most dance team workout regimens tend to concentrate on core conditioning and increasing flexibility, they overlook the need for strength and cardiovascular training exercises that are essential to preventing injury. During my tenure at Texas State University, twice a week the Strutters were required to workout at the Student Rec Center where they focused on core work and upper body strength, finishing with 30 minutes of an aerobic activity. Signature cards were distributed the first class of the month, and collected on the last class of the month (that included documentation of their time at the Rec Center). In addition, the Texas State University Strutters spent 9 days together in Training Camp before the start of football season/Fall semester. The team was engaged in a daily core, muscle-strengthening and flexibility training program along with cardio-respiratory activities. During Strutters Training Camp, the team worked out each day from 8:30 am. until 6:00 pm. with 1 ½ hours for lunch. Their activities also included various dance technique drills and combinations across the floor, skill development and routine instruction. Training Camp activities were tailored to suit the needs of Strutters, with the ultimate goal being improvement in muscular strength, flexibility, joint mobility, agility, balance, physical/mental endurance, and injury prevention.
Consistency helped Strutters maintain their bodies throughout slow periods (like summer). Alternating days with strength training and cardiovascular workouts or balancing both activities in one day helped the team maintain energy and muscle tone. During my time at Texas State, the goal for Strutters was developing core/muscular strength and remaining physically fit. This was the secret to their success as dancers and performers, and it is a legacy that I hope will continue.
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