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Is dance a sport?


Dance is taken incredibly seriously at Taipei American School. Anyone who attends the performances of “Anastasia”, opening tonight, will see firsthand proof of the value the school places upon dance. TAS Dance has a structure similar to the school’s sports programs, with varsity and junior varsity teams, as well as grueling daily practices after school. Yet, dance is not an official part of the athletics program, and IASAS dance delegates participate in the Cultural Convention along with actors and musicians. So here is the crucial question: is dance a sport? The Blue & Gold’s Christine Lin and Julian Lee share their thoughts.

C: Dance’s status as a performance art does not exclude it from being a sport. Though various styles of dance require different levels and locations of control, the activity encompasses the same level of physical exertion and understanding of one’s body as a sport. When I talked to Ms. Michelle Lawgun, a middle school PE teacher and girls’ touch rugby coach, she said that dance requires a variety of athletic qualities such as “stamina, flexibility, coordination, timing, and competition.” She also recalls having to take dance training as part of her physical education degree curriculum at college.
J: Sure, I understand and respect that dance is physically taxing. Jonathan Huang (‘18), 3-year IASAS rugby player and this year’s dance production male lead, even said that he considers dance to be far more challenging than rugby, both athletically and mentally. But the thing is, you’re arguing that physical difficulty alone makes dance a sport, which is unreasonable. By your reasoning, then, construction working and fighting in a war would be sports too, just because they require physical exertion.
C: Okay, but then what constitutes a sport? One of the earliest instances of someone using the word “sport” is when in 1443 one R. Pecock used it to refer to “an activity providing diversion, entertainment, or fun,” a sentiment TIME Magazine echoed 500 years later. Then over the last two hundred years, more and more athletes started to describe sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skills.” Dance ticks all the boxes.
J: Sport does include fun, physical exertion, skill, and all the other things you mentioned. But your definitions are all wrong. They leave out the essential element of sport dance lacks: competition. As Ms. Kim Kawamoto, TAS Athletic Director and West Point Athletic Hall of Famer, says, “You don’t keep score in a dance or musical, there’s no winner or loser.” Each time dancers go onstage, they’re trying to express their emotions, execute their techniques, and create something beautiful. By contrast, athletes in any sport are trying primarily to win. This  competitive mentality is what sets sports apart from other activities. Without competition, dance cannot be considered a sport.
C: Those definitions cannot possibly be wrong, because they are actual, compiled recordings of the word’s usage according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). How can literary history itself be wrong, and you be right? Besides, even if we were to believe that your idea about competition trumps TIME, OED, and numerous other professional opinions, let’s not forget dance does have its own competitions. Dozens of dance competitions occur around the world, like Showstopper, Velocity, Spotlight, Radix, NUVO, The Pulse, and Jump. For its creative choreography, dance is an art form. For its rigorous physical execution, dance is a sport and is judged according to set rules and regulations, just like ice-skating or rhythmic gymnastics.
J:  Yes, there are competitions for dance, but I don’t believe that dance is essentially, at its core, competitive. Many of the world’s best dance groups, like the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, focus solely on performance for an audience. In a more directly relevant context, too, it’s no coincidence that every IASAS sport awards medals, while IASAS dance consists of cooperative workshops and showcases with no ranking of teams.
C: If you say that dance is not “essentially” competitive, you clearly don’t know dance. When I audition for the dance production or varsity team, I strive to outperform other people who are vying for the lead role. The dancers in the Bolshoi Ballet Company pour their blood, sweat, and tears into every step, turn, and jump, competing fiercely against each other to become the best “players,” principal dancers and soloists. Their pictures on the programmes are their medals. So how are you drawing the line between what is competition and what is not? Are we only talking about IASAS? The NBA? The Olympics? I think you are picking and choosing.
Yes, of course dance is an art form and it entails the appreciation of beauty and creativity, but that does not make it any less a sport. What if someone was to say to you, a volleyball player, “Volleyball is not a sport because it’s just a fun game”? Rachel Hsu (‘19) explains, “When you say dance is a sport, you are invalidating dancers.” As a dancer, I experience not only the creativity and artistry that drive this performing art form but also the physicality and competitiveness that it entails. These qualities, in the end, are not mutually exclusive.
J: As a kid, I woke up with my heart pounding at 3:00 a.m. to watch my beloved Manchester United try to beat FC Barcelona. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, they lost, and afterwards I had to keep myself from crying. As strange as it may sound, this is the magic of sports, and it’s fundamentally different from the magic of dance. When we watch “Anastasia in the coming days, we’ll be captivated not by a scoreline or any element of competition, but by the dancers’ grace, skill, and style. Dance and sports simply do not share the same values, but when I say that dance isn’t a sport, I’m not invalidating dancers, or implying that sports is somehow better than dance. I know from personal experience that TAS dancers are just as dedicated and skilled as our athletes, if not even more so; and in their own, separate ways, both are equally worthy of respect.

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