Pirouettes and perceptions: is dance sport or art?


Lucy Peck , Staff Writer

“I remember when I was in lower school, some of the boys in my class would tell me that dance isn’t a real sport,” Sophia Paley (11) said. “It made me upset because I know firsthand how much work dance requires.”

Paley is one of many dancers at the school who have experienced stereotypes surrounding the activity and the question of whether or not it can be considered a sport. 

Paley, who dances five hours per week, has been exposed to numerous stereotypes related to dance during her time at the school, she said. “I still have had people tell me that dance requires less work than other sports like soccer or basketball,” she said.

That said, it is not fair to qualify dance as only a sport — it is also an art form because it requires elements from both, Paley said. As a sport, dance requires numerous hours of training, exercising, and stretching. As an art form, dance is a method of self-expression that allows people to create a physical representation of their emotions, she said.

“Dance is definitely an athletic art,” Bethany Jarrett (11), who has been dancing since she was three, said. “It depends on what type of dance, because competitive dance is more of a sport because you’re training for a judge to rate your skills.”

 “[Dance] is definitely taken less seriously than doing sports and other athletics,” Jarett said. “But I think that dance is very important and respectable in its own way.” It is important to remember the artistry of dance, as well as the endurance that the activity requires, she said. Dance is both an outlet where you can express yourself and is a physically demanding activity, Jarrett said.

Giselle Paulson (12), who has been dancing since she was six, said dance qualifies as a sport. “People don’t typically recognize how athletic dance is. It’s necessary to call it a sport just to correct that misconception.” Unlike other sports, dance is more individualized, Paulson said. “It’s everyone for themselves, it’s not like you work as a team to do something.”

Charles Chaitmen (10), who began ballet when he was four years old, noticed that dance is taken less seriously than other athletics at the school, he said. “I wasn’t given the same respect as if I was doing a sport, even though ballet can be just as hard or harder,” he said. In spite of the artistic aspects of the dance, such as choreography, dancers are constrained to athletic movements, he said.“ It is an art form but it is extremely physical.” 

Classifying dance as either an art or a sport depends on the type, Niki Pande (10), a member of the Horace Mann Dance Company (HMDC), said. “If it’s slower and elegant, I would say it’s more like an art,” she said. “But, if it’s super fast paced and requires lots of stamina, I would say that it is more like a sport.” These fast paced dances could also be considered an art because of the thoughtfulness that goes into the choreography, she said.

Although many people believe dance does not require a lot of work, time, or energy, this is far from the truth, Pande said. “But, you have to practice a lot and it requires a lot of energy,” she said. “I have to eat two protein bars before I do rehearsal because it’s so tiring.” 

Serena Gaboury (12), who has been doing ballet since freshman year, views dance as more of a sport because dance allows her to move her body in new ways, she said. “It’s cool to see all the ways you can push and stretch your body.”

However, Gaboury also considers dance to be an art, and finds it dangerous to classify dance as just a sport or just an art, she said. Rather, dance is a hybrid between dance and art. Just looking at it as a sport misses the artistic quality of each movement, while looking at it solely as art obscures the training and athletic talent behind each movement, Gaboury said.

Certain stereotypes can also arise from viewing dance as purely an art, Gaboury said. “There is a stereotype about dancers having eating disorders and always thinking about body image.” Body image stereotypes are related to viewing dance as purely an art because then, the focus is on the way one’s body looks and how they can use it to make certain shapes, she said. 

Paley said that dance is taken seriously at the school because it plays a part in the school’s culture. “Especially with the spirit squad, everyone is able to gather around and watch them perform,” she said. “Their performances help encourage the student body to take dance seriously, but also to get involved if they think they would enjoy it.”

As co-president of the HMDC and a member of the spirit squad, Jarrett has observed the role of dance within the school community, she said. The spirit squad’s dance concerts usually have a high turnout of students, faculty, and family members, she said. “I think that the community definitely enjoys the performances we put on.”

Chaitmen, who is a member of HMDC, finds the group to be a safe and welcoming environment, he said. “What I like about it is that it’s not just ballet, it’s other styles too, so I’m learning more about dance.”

To spread appreciation for dance, Paley has found ways to merge it with her other extracurricular activities, she said. “My sister, Ava, and I started a charity called ‘Donate to Dance’ where we provide used dance costumes and shoes to less privileged children.” Paley also teaches tap classes to younger children to pass on her love for dance, she said. “Teaching is also a great way for me to work on my own dance as well, as I practice each of my steps.”

Like many athletes on sports teams, Paley struggles balancing dance with schoolwork, she said. “Especially on weekends where all my assessments are piling up and I just want to stay in and work, it’s difficult to have to get up and go to dance,” she said. However, Paley’s love for dance also allows her to take her mind off of school and work off pent up stress or frustration.

Throughout Paley’s years on the stage, her favorite moments are the showcases that her dance company puts on each year, she said. They spend months on the physical process of rehearsing, as well as the artistic process of picking a set list, choosing music, and creating the costumes, she said. “It’s always a hectic weekend, but I look forward to it,” she said. “It’s a surreal feeling to be on a stage with hundreds of people watching you while you’re doing something you love.”