by Nicole Wilkes
Photo Courtesy of Pexels
The Merriam-Webster dictionary contains 24 different definitions of the word “sport.” The word has a variety of meanings, from verbs (being joyful, wearing an article of clothing, partaking in a joyous activity) to nouns (a contest or game, a physical activity). This article calls upon two particular definitions as well as the opinions of dance-community members to weigh in on the debate that has haunted the world of dance for years: Is dance a sport?
Dance is said to have emerged in human culture some 9,000 years ago. Many scholars believe that it originated as a means of social communication and predates written language by thousands of years. In the 9,000 years since then; however, the way that humans view and partake in dance has notably evolved. For a dedicated, talented few, dance can be a career. For a choreographer, it can be a means of artistic creation. For a child, it can be an after-school hobby or even a life-saving escape. To understand whether or not dance technically qualifies as a sport, it is important to understand the definitions of sport in order to supplement evidence to the debate.
One of the Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions is: “A contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other.”
According to this definition, dance only qualifies as a sport when one dances in a competition against others. While there are countless dance competitions for both youths and adults that take place nationally each year, not every dancer dances to win titles and trophies.
This next definition is more general. It reads, “A physical activity (such as hunting, fishing, running, swimming, etc.) that is done for enjoyment.”
Most would agree that dancing cannot rationally be excluded from the group detailed in this definition. There is no denying that dancing is in fact a physical activity—all varieties of dance are centered on bodily movement. Further, one cannot exactly argue whether or not dance is done “for enjoyment” any more than one can argue that football or baseball are done “for enjoyment”, and this places all of those activities on the same plane. According to this definition, dance in in fact a sport.
Boston University freshman and dance minor Jennifer Konchaski (COM ’20) believes that the combination of sport and art is what makes dance so extraordinarily difficult.
“You have to do such physically demanding things onstage while smiling the whole time,” said Konchaski. “A football player can make a face and throw a fit after a bad play, but in dance you have to look perfect at all times and tell the story no matter what.”
In 2013, a 14-year-old competitive dancer named Jenna Garecht wrote an article on this subject that was posted on the Huffington Post Website.
“I believe that dance is a sport because it has the same components as any other sport,” said Garecht. “To be able to dance well, one needs to be flexible, strong, have stamina, have endurance and, most importantly, have a love for what they do.”
America Susan Epstein, a choreographer, dancer and former president of United Dance Merchants of America, disagrees.
“In sports, there are winners and losers. The players are there to win,” said Epstein in a blog post on DancePathways.org. Her characterization seems to reference the first definition of “sport” mentioned in this article. “Dancers dance for many reasons.”
The point to be made here is that if you take the dictionary definitions at face value, if you view the issue in black and white binaries and absolutes, then yes, dance technically is a sport. However, you do not have to be a dancer to understand that dance itself is far more than its 24 definitions. Dance means so many different things to so many different people, and that is okay. The fact that it is a sport to some and not to others does not take away from its power as an art form or the work, passion and endless dedication of those who dance.