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FMD vs. NickiSue: Is dance a sport?

FMD vs. NickiSue: Is dance a sport?

by Dan Brindle and Nicole Harrell

Posted on June 29, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 29 at 12:48 PM

NickiSue’s View: Is dance a real sport? Most of us played some kind of sport growing up. Some of us played basketball; some played hockey and others played football. Dance was my sport of choice, but over the years many people have told me that my sport was not real. I even remember getting into a debate with a teacher about an essay I wrote about the sport of dance. It was no surprise to me that I was alone in my thinking when this debate came up one night in the WHAS11 newsroom.

Let me begin my argument by quoting the dictionary.  Sport is defined as, “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature,” (

Dance requires a great deal of skill. There is no denying the fact that dancers are athletes. In fact, dance is the only sport that works every single part of your body. Every muscle from head to toe is at work. Even athletes who play other sports have taken dance over the years to improve their individual game. On a personal note, growing up I was always able to play others sports if given the opportunity, because my body was in such great shape.

The second element of a sport is the “competitive nature.” Critics may argue that dance does not keep score like many other sports. There are no touchdowns or field goals but trust me there is competition. There are of course dance competitions with official scores and awards. Even beyond that dancers are always competing. They are competing for the leading role in the ballet, the solo and even the best turnout.

Dance is not a team sport like football or basketball, but neither is golf or bowling. Some argue that dance is an art and not a sport. I believe that it can be both. Dance is beautiful and dancers are always perfecting their craft like any other athlete. I encourage you to maybe watch some So you think you can dance and see the perfect harmony of athleticism and art.

FMD: I was there that night in the newsroom and of course a central figure in this argument.  You were alone, but most of us lugs arguing with you recognized that dance was not easy and that we could not do it. 

Before I get started, please know that my argument is not meant to demean or belittle dance or other similar activities.  They are incredibly difficult and all who excel at them should be proud.

So let’s get to your definition (which I believe is too broad) of a sport.  Is dance athletic?  Sure. Does it require skill or physical prowess? Anyone who has been privy to a FMD wedding reception appearance would easily answer “yes.”  I believe the whole argument is in the last part of that definition as well as in what it omits.

Is dance competitive in nature? Dance has been made competitive, but its nature is not.  While a sport in my opinion was created with the express purpose to compete.  Basketball, football and hockey were all created with rules and scoring systems in place to encourage and judge the level of competition.  Dance is just something we humans do and its nature is not in competition. 

Consider the following from an article written in 2010 linked at:   

“A study published in the Public Library of Science’s genetics journal in 2006 suggested that long ago the ability to dance was actually connected to the ability to survive. According to the study, dancing was a way for our prehistoric ancestors to bond and communicate, particularly during tough times.”

Now the astute debater will bring up that running or weight lifting or swimming are all activities humans do by nature and have been made into more widely accepted “sports.”  So how do I reconcile these activities, surely they would be labeled as sports in my mind, correct? 

Well, here’s where I quarrel with the definition.  I think what sets a sport apart from an athletic activity is an objective scoring system.  In running or swimming it is the clock.  In weight lifting it is the weights.  In basketball it is the ball going through the hoop, football crossing goal line etc.  

In my opinion this is a vital distinction that is not made by the above (or really all that I have heard) definition.  How can you ever really know you win when competing against a fairly equally skilled individual in dance?  I imagine that gets even more difficult when it is a team event like cheer or dance team. 

There are compulsory scores and feats, but beyond that it becomes how one human values your version of dance versus how they view another’s. And that can be influenced by all numbers of factors from not paying close enough attention to your best moves, or sneezing when your “opponent” misses a spin by 10 degrees.  That doesn’t even delve into the possible political influences on scoring in subjective athletic competitions.

To me a sport has a winner and a loser that everyone knows.  I don’t see that in dance.         

NickiSue’s view: FMD, I respect your opinion and I agree with most of your points. So, where do I begin?

First of all, I think we should separate dancing for fun, such as at a wedding reception, from dance as a sport. Most of us enjoy doing a little shake or wobble at a party (By the way if you like dancing for fun this is a hilarious video). But dance as a sport is not something to be taken lightly. I was taught that you couldn’t simply come off the street into a dance studio. Just like with any other sport you need to stretch and warm-up. For ballet in particular you spend the first half of every single class at a barre training every part of your body.

I agree with the article you pointed out. Dance is in our DNA as humans. And if dance was at one time, “connected to the ability to survive,” I would lump eating and running into that category, (which have by the way been made into competitive sports). Also, referring back to your comments, an athletic dancer does not “spin” she does a “pirouette” or at least a “turn.” My instructors over the years always made that distinction. And also I don’t know what “sneezing” has to do with anything.

In your argument you said that dance is not a sport because it does not have an “objective scoring system.” The Olympics are coming up, what about the sports of gymnastics and figure skating? Even if you don’t like the sports they are recognized by the world as such. Yes, they get scores and medals, but winners are determined by judges.  Also let’s not even get started on the subject you brought up of “political influences.” The NBA finals just ended; can you honestly say you agreed with every call made by a referee? Of course not, we are human and all sports are judged or influenced by other humans in some way.

What is considered a sport may vary from one person to the next. If you were to compare dance to another sport, I would say that the martial arts of karate and taekwondo compare the best. Individual athletes do these sports. One of the main goals is to strengthen the body and move on to the next level. These sports have roots in the ability to survive as you pointed out and discipline is a main focus. These martial arts and dance can also be considered both sport and art.

A sport does not have to be mainstream for it to be real. I personally do not like all sports. It is up to every individual to find his or her own talents and passions. Whether we agree or disagree, dance is my sport and it has made me into the person I am today.

FMD: Well, I am well aware that in order to include or exclude these activities from the genre called sports I have created my own definition. So we are really just arguing what definition is the right one and beyond that whether or not I have the authority to create one. 

I believe the addition of the unambiguous scoring system clause is absolutely necessary.  It just leaves too much room for the better runner/team/ dancer to come out on the wrong end of a result through nothing either competitor does.  The officials do not interpret whether LeBron drops the ball in a hoop it either goes in or doesn’t.  Ball crosses goal line or does not- no extra points for style as determined by an outside source.  Officials make mistakes, but do not award points.

Yes, I know my definition rules out gymnastics and figure skating along with dance and cheer.  This does not mean that those activities are not worthwhile endeavors.  It does not mean that they are not competitive nor does it mean that we should not watch them.  It just means that they are something other than sports.

Competitive eating is its’ own category though and is neither sport nor worthwhile- just gross.

But you know, we have disagreed before, I guess we just do again.