Saturday, August 13, 2011
Could Dance Be an Olympic Sport?
Light Emitting Dance in Olympic Colors
One of my favorite sports in the upcoming Summer Olympics is Rhythmic Gymnastics, a relative of dancing. My favorite event in the Winter Olympics is figure skating. And since figure skating is probably the closest Olympic sport to dancing, it also holds special interest to me. As I soak up the the precision, graceful lines and the technique which makes difficult moves easy, my natural tendency is to compare the sport to dance. Gia Kourlas did a 2010 article for the New York Times considering the parallels, but her main focus was on whether figure skating was sport or art. (She concluded, “It’s a sport with delusions of grandeur.”) I would like to consider the flip side – could dance be a competition? A sport? An Olympic event?
First I’d like to look at the similarities. Dance involves movement of the body, which makes it physical, like a sport. Like figure skating, dance can be considered athletic and technical, with individuals varying on execution of the movements. Dance can be a performance just like a figure skating routine. While dance is often considered artistic, skating also values artistic elements, even considering them in half of the judging score. Both dance and figure skating are usually done to music, which plays an integral role in the performance. Finally, like Olympic figure skating, dance can be done solo and in pairs. With all of these similarities, it starts to seem that skating is simply dancing on ice.
And yet dancing is not in the Olympics, no summer off-the-ice equivalent. Is dance not in the Olympics because of its origins? It’s hard to pinpoint what unifies all the events currently in the Olympics. Putting aside contemporary trends and financial persuasion, I would venture that most Olympic events began as some sort of recreational activity that rose in popularity to the point of becoming competitive. I imagine the shot putters out on the valleys of Greece and the crazy Scandinavians that first attempted to put boards on their feet to slide down the snowy mountain. And so perhaps the origins of dance – as performance, social activity, or religious expression – were simply different than the recreation and competition of the other sports. Dancing as part of a theater production, or inside a royal court, or central to a religious ceremony, was probably not thought of during the races and rock-throwing competitions by the Parthenon. And maybe this separation is because dance is considered a performing art.
So the question is, can dance ever not be considered as art? In other words, can dance be dance without being art? I’m not even going to give an opinion on this because this question could probably be eternally debated. It is certainly subjective as it depends on an individual’s definition or perspective on art. And in the end some might believe that dance could be an art AND a sport, thereby making this an unnecessary distinction. In any case, when I think about this whole topic, the pivotal question seems to be whether dance can depart from the realm of art and enter the realm of sport.
For further investigation, I’d like to assume that dance can be a sport, whether still an art form or divorced from that identity. And so the next question is, can dance be competitive? Can it be judged? For this answer, one only has to look to the myriad of dance competition shows on TV (DWTS, SYTYCD, ABDC, etc.). Without regard to the integrity of those shows (surely a topic of later discussion), it is clear to see that many believe that there can be winners in dancing.
So then is dancing not an Olympic event because there is no extra factor, like skates and ice? Is it that moving around on solid ground with friction is too easy or not athletic enough to be a sport? As a dancer, of course I would rise up against the idea of dance being easy. So, while others may contest it, I’m going to quickly move past this point to…
Would dance just be too impractical to be an Olympic event? To me, the only way dance could be fairly judged would be if it were separated by genres/techniques, gender, and number of performers. Yet this would make for a hundred possible categories of competition, far more than any other current Olympic event. And if only select techniques were included, like ballet and tap, then many would be left out, making for an incomplete representation of the form as well as many angry dancers worldwide. So is dance just too broad and complicated to fit in easily as an Olympic event?
Lastly, even if all of these things could work out – dance could be included, separated from art, considered a sport, considered athletic and competitive, and fit in as an event – maybe those in the dance community just don’t want it to be an Olympic event. On one hand, it would broaden the audience for dance and bring many into appreciating the form. But on the other hand, it could take the focus away from dance’s ability to be art, to be expressive, to be transcendent, to be culturally important. Maybe since dance can be so much more than sport, we have no desire to reduce it to such.
There is hope for Ballroom Dance. In 2002, DanceSport submitted a request to be considered for admission to the Olympics. The IOC considers several factors in adding a sport, including the sport's history and tradition, popularity and cost. DanceSport will not be included in the 2012 Olympic Games, but it could be added in 2016. In its report last summer on future Olympic Games, the IOC asked DanceSport to increase its spectatorship and TV viewership, both of which the dancing community has been doing steadily. Another point in their favor is gender parity. DanceSport is one of a few sports in which men and women compete against each other in the same playing field, which is a big deal for the IOC, said Peter Pover, President of USA Dance.
In Ballroom Dance, couples are competing against each other. The question is, will we ever get to see one couple's Rumba or Foxtrot compared to another couple's? That is certainly something I'd love to see.