During my junior year at Wheaton North, my dance team and I achieved an accomplishment that the Falconettes had never achieved before: we won state. When I heard “And in first place… the Wheaton North Falconettes” announced over the loudspeaker I could hardly believe my ears. On Friday, my school had an assembly for my team and me as a reward for winning state. We were excited to show our school our dance, but our week went from good to bad as we endured whispers and sneers in the hall regarding our win.
The wrestling team, who had also gone to state that weekend, came back with one of their wrestlers, Mike Swider, third in state. The wrestlers felt as though we stole their light and criticized our win by yelling things like, “Dance is not a sport, it is not hard to win state for you girls! Swider is the true champion” as the dance team passed them in the halls.
That Friday, my team and I put on our uniforms as we prepared to perform our state winning routine one last time. As we entered the gym, only about half of the school was present. The usual cheering that took place during assemblies was replaced by dull clapping. I could hear my heart thudding and the noise of my fellow teammates shoes against the floor. As we walked to the front of the gym we sat down and watched as Mike Swider walked in. The wrestlers stood and started cheering for him, eventually the rest of the school also started to cheer for Swider. I could see on my team’s faces that they were disappointed in our classmate’s attitude towards us. After all the support we showed our school during our season through drum lines, assemblies, and games, they did not even have the courtesy support us for our achievement.
The Wheaton North Falconette’s season is the longest season compared to any of the sports in the school ranging from June until March. Meeting five to six days a week for two hours every day, the Falconettes and I worked extremely hard perfecting dances for football season, basketball season, and our own competition season. Yet, despite all the hard work, both physically and mentally, that my team and I put forth, we were considered a club. Dancing challenges the body both physically and mentally and possesses the same amount of technique and dedication as any other sport, therefore, schools should treat dance teams like a sport.
Although dancers may look lean, one would be surprised by the amount of muscle they possess. In order for dancers to leap high off the ground, or balance on releve—standing on the balls of your feet—with no help for minutes on end, they must have strong lean bodies that allow them to properly execute flawless technique. Surprisingly, both dancers and football players strengthen many of the same muscles. Many football players find dance, ballet in particular, to be helpful in their training. By practicing turnout—rotating the hips outward—football players strengthen injury- susceptible muscles beneath the gluteus and around the pelvis better than they would in parallel during a normal football practice. In the 1970’s the Pittsburgh wide receiver Lynn Swannconfessed to taking ballet lessons, which sparked coaches to push their players into taking ballet as well. Dance focuses on increasing strength in the lower body using methods no other sport would think of to train their players. Standing on releve helps strengthen the Achilles tendon in the ankle and bahtmahs—high kicks—helps strengthen kickers hip muscles.
Many players such as the NFL nose tackle for the Steelers, Steve McLendon, has also admitted to taking ballet lessons, as well, in order to help him in football. McLendon states that ballet is harder than anything else he does but deals with it because it strengthens his knees, ankles and feet for football. Strength in the legs is very important for dancers. Before a dancer leaps into the air, a chasse—a gliding step in which one foot displaces the other—is necessary for the dancer can gain the proper momentum for them to travel in the air. Similarly, baseball players incorporate the same technique of a chasse right before they throw the baseball because it helps them gain power so that the ball is thrown far enough. While chasse helps a dancer travel in the air, a plié helps them gain height in the air. A plié requires a lot of strength in both the knees and the ankles. In order for a dancer to properly execute a plié, they must bend their knees to gain power and momentum so that they can jump into the air. This can be seen during basketball games when players must complete a plié in order to gain the proper amount of air for them to reach the basket and dunk the ball.
Dancing may look easy, but it requires a lot of endurance. Cross-country runners possess great endurance because they run for long amounts of time, yet they only need to exert force in one direction—straight. Dancers may perform for only three minutes, but the countless number of turns, leaps, and movement throughout the floor causes the dancer’s entire body to be engaged the entire time, exerting force in numerous directions. Pom, a style of dance, requires the dancer to have extremely tight sharp motions that cannot be accomplished without engaging all the muscles in their body. This can be very tiring to do for a whole dance; therefore dancers must build up the muscle endurance so that they can execute the entire dance without faltering. Endurance is also important for dancers because while they perform they must keep up their facials instead of showing how tired they are. While tennis players view Serena’s famous tennis grunt as a sign of dedication and effort in her game, dancers do not approve because they are trained to make dancing look effortless. Without the proper endurance dancers would not make it through a routine without showing the pain they are feeling on their faces distracting the audience from the dance.
During football and basketball season, dance teams can be found on the sidelines faithfully cheering at every game. These dancers, however, not only attend all the games for football and basketball season, they also have their own competition season in which they compete against other dance teams. College dance teams sign up with Universal Dance Association, in order to compete at the “most prestigious college dance championship in the country.” All styles of dance—lyrical, modern, hip-hop, pom—can be seen at UDA’s championship. The picture below shows a dance team at the UDA championship performing their pom routine:
Unlike a football game where teams win based on how many points they score, dance competitions have many expectations the dances must consist of in order to earn points. Based on the UDA’s official score sheet, dances are given points based on execution of technical skills (turns, leaps, jumps), difficulty of choreography, uniformity (spacing and group synchronization), and overall effect (ability to connect with the audience) (Rules and Regulations, n.d.).
In order to earn points, dancers must perfect a dance that impresses the judges in all categories of the score sheet. Although dancers can control the difficulty of their technique and the choreography in their dance, they cannot control the outcome and earn their points through a process that ultimately leads down to whether or not the judge likes their routine. Working months on a two to three minute routine can become extremely aggravating. Each practice focuses on improving technique—jumps, leaps, turns—and perfecting the same dance over and over again. Dancers must learn to adapt quickly to changes made in their dances. It is very rare for a competition dance to stay the same throughout the entire competition season. Changes to weak spots in the dance can be replaced with new choreography. This causes the dancer to change the muscle memory he or she had built up and train their body to learn the new choreography.
Dance is a versatile sport that challenges a dancer both mentally and physically. These tough athletic dancers deserve to be treated like a sport by their schools. Even Nike, one the biggest sports brands, has started showing their support for dance in their 2013 ad for ballet shoes and so should everyone else:
Rules and regulations, (2013). Universal Dance Association. Retrieved from http://uda.varsity.com/docs/competition/2014%20College%20Championship%20Rules.pdf