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Is Ballet an Art or a Sport? -- article


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 10:52 AM

This topic has been discussed here several times, and it's popular again because of the recent Under Armour ad. I have an article online in Dance/USA's From The Green Room:

 

http://www2.danceusa...hat-s-the-score

 

I'm firmly on the "it's an art" side:

 

 Artistry poses infinite questions. Sport is finite. It ends. It pits two teams, or several individuals, against each other to compete for one very decided, satisfying goal: who has the most points? Who was first to reach the finish line? These aren’t questions we ask about ballet.

 

 

What do you think?



#2 abatt

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 11:08 AM

Certain dancers and ballet fans sometimes treat it more like a sport insofar as emphasizing (over emphasizing) the athletic components like number of fouettes, whether the fouettes were doubles or triples, numbers of spins, so on.  I fall into the art camp - art in motion.  At its best, ballet can be athletic and artistic simultaneously.  The athletic is in service of the artisitic. As an example, when Angel Corella did Romeo and Juliet, his jumps and spins in the balcony scene were done with marvelous speed, height and technical accuracy.  However, they were not merely athletic feats.  He used them in service of creation of the character, as a way of expressing his joy, exuberance  and love for Juliet. There are many artists who similarly use their prodigious athletic gifts in service of creation of character in full length ballets. 

 

 



#3 DanielBenton

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 11:52 AM

Alexandra, thank you for the article.  Not happy but not surprised at the 85% who think ballet is a sport.

I subscribe to Stravinsky's statement that ballet is the highest form of theatrical art, because its sole purpose

is to show beauty.  (Anyone who has both listened to and watched The Sleeping Beauty knows that).

I think we (who love the art form) have a lot of work to do to get the message out.



#4 kfw

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 01:31 PM

I'm firmly on the "it's an art" side

 

So am I, and I don't really understand why the misperception that it's a sport persists, unless most of the people perceiving it that way have never been to the ballet (and aren't pictures of Nutcracker or Sleeping Beauty the first things most of them think of?).A sport is by definition competitive - competition is its point. Some ballets have competitive moments, but few exist merely for the sake of competition.



#5 abatt

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 01:37 PM

I don't think of all sports as competitive.  Sports are physical athletic pursuits.  They don't have to be competitive.  If I  go for a jog, I'm engaged in a sport, but it is not competitive.   I think the athletic nature of ballet is why some people might regard it as a sport instead of an art.



#6 Alexandra

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 02:03 PM

Alexandra, thank you for the article.  Not happy but not surprised at the 85% who think ballet is a sport.

I subscribe to Stravinsky's statement that ballet is the highest form of theatrical art, because its sole purpose

is to show beauty.  (Anyone who has both listened to and watched The Sleeping Beauty knows that).

I think we (who love the art form) have a lot of work to do to get the message out.

Greetings, Daniel, and thank you for reading the article!  I'm sure it wasn't a scientific poll, but since we are in an age of Extreme Technique, I wasn't surprised that most who chose to answer the question were on the "sport" side. Please help get the word out! (I liked your Stravinsky quote, too.)

 

kfw, I remember in the very early days of Ballet Alert! that dance students would have this as a sig line: "I am an athlete and dance is my sport." (We would encourage them to find another :) )  I think we're in a sport age. I agree that sports are competitive; that's part of the definition of the word. Abatt, I think if a single person jogs, it's "physical activity." 

 

There are ballet performances that feel like at least some of the dancers think they're in a competition.



#7 Helene

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 02:11 PM

I don't doubt for a moment that stressing athleticism is meant to address the myth that ballet dancers are either effeminate gay men (or, occasionally, effeminate straight men, unless their love life is the stuff of straight male fantasy) or are delicate female creatures to be put on pedestals, worshiped, and moved around the stage by a man, and never, ever lesbians.  Look at sports:  it's not as if Rudy Galindo being out has inspired many male figure skaters to be out publicly or Greg Louganis' book and coming out has inspired many divers to come out, let alone many athletes who compete in professional team sports or tennis players and golfers who are after those big endorsement contracts. 

 

Edward Villella's plaited muscles graced the cover of a national magazine to show that the former boxer was an athlete, but that wasn't even in classical ballet:  it was in "Prodigal Son."  Yet it countered the image, just as the Novice in "The Cage" and the women in "A Million Kisses to My Skin" belie the helpless female stereotype that causes many feminists to throw out the classical baby with the bathwater.  The incentives are there to say, "We're athletic!"  "We'll jump across the stage and wow you with our power!"  "We're Americans and don't need all those crowns and all that hierarchy!"

 

But in between ballet dancer = sport there are two different things.  The first is ballet dancers are as trained, strong, fierce, and fearless as any athletes out there, and that what they do could fell professional athletes in other sports.  That is asking for respect for what it takes physically and mentally to make great physical feats look effortless.  I suspect that many would do cartwheels at the 85% statistic.

 

The second is ballet competitions.  There are several kinds of them, just like in opera.  Some are scholarship competitions.  Some are looking for potential rather than finished product. Some are looking for who is the best dancer, no matter how that is defined, one those competition days.  (That doesn't mean that there isn't scouting among the judges or audience for their own companies in which they are looking for specific types of dancers [height, style, partnering skill] who may or may not be unfinished, but that's not always part of the formal competition.)  It's easy to confuse competition with sport, since there are winners and losers -- no matter what the criteria, someone is holding the trophy/plaque/check at the end -- not just audience that's seen "Swan Lake," even if that competition were strictly interpretive and not overtly technical.

 

I think the steps between, which are distinct things, get conflated into the dance=sport argument, and it's unclear how those 85% are thinking of sport and dance.

 

Wonderful article, Alexandra!



#8 kfw

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 03:30 PM

I don't think of all sports as competitive.  Sports are physical athletic pursuits.  They don't have to be competitive.  If I  go for a jog, I'm engaged in a sport, but it is not competitive.   I think the athletic nature of ballet is why some people might regard it as a sport instead of an art.

 

Interesting.I don't consider jogging a sport. I think all sports, even auto racing, are athletic, but not all activities that require athleticism are sports. For what it's worth, Merriam-Webster calls a sport "a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other." I'm sure you're right that some people equate athletic activity with sport whether competition is the point or not. But are there people who don't make that equation, yet consider ballet a sport because they have so little conception of what the art form is? 

 

What a great discussion. Thanks, Alexandra.



#9 Alexandra

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 03:52 PM

I think Under Armour has said they're running "ballet is a sport" ads to broaden their market. I'm sure it was innocent. It just fed into the wider question.

 

Helene, thank you for such an interesting post. I only mentioned ballet competitions in passing, because of space, but of course they're very influential, to both dancers and fans. If you're new to ballet, like a dancer, and learn that he/she is a Gold Medal winner!!!! of course you'll think ballet is a sport. Even the competitions, though, emphasize that ballet is an art. I remember about a decade ago, there was a very talented young man whom everyone expected to get a special higher-than-Gold medal whose variation did not go well at all. The judges had seen him do it time and time again, they knew what he could do -- and they decided to let him skate it again, which he did perfectly. The Varna people explained they'd done this because ballet is an art, and not a sport.

 

Ken, that's a good twist on the definition. For the article, I read several dictionary definitions and all incorporated the element of competition in their definition of sport. Your ask a good question and I'd say that if your first ballet is a star-studded "Don Q" or "Le Corsaire" (which used to make people cry, according to 19th century accounts) you'd think that ballet certainly has a sports -- even a competition -- element to it. I think one has to see a performance (one hopes more than one) where the dancers transcend this aspect and you're confronted with someothing that has nothing to do with the human body and wonder, What WAS that? 



#10 atm711

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Posted 15 August 2014 - 07:42 AM

I have always considered it an Art---but too many (on Ballet Alert, alas) view it as a sport, technique is all that seems to matter.  Artistry is out the window if a fumbled turn or wobbly balance is seen.  I consider myself to be fortunate to have seen many dance icons, none of them technical wizards (with the possible exception of Alonso in her prime)  I have often wondered what today's ballet public

would think of two of my old favorites--Tatiana Riabouchinska and Hugh Laing with their high degree of artistry and low technical ability.---or Danilova and Markova--no technical wizards.  Would their

artistry be overlooked?  I tend to think so.



#11 abatt

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Posted 15 August 2014 - 08:31 AM

Due to advances in orthopedic treatments, I think some of today's dancers are much more daring in pushing their technical abilities to the absolute limit, and may contribute to the feeling that ballet has become more like a sport.  In the old days, once you blew out your knee or suffered some other signfiicant injury, your career as a dancer was over.  Now many injuries can be repaired, and there is a daredevil competitive aspect to some dancers regarding spins, jumps, balances and so on. The audience has come to expect a high level of technical brilliance and daring.

 

Also, wasn't there a push to make ballroom dancing part of the Olympics?  The relationship between dance and sports is not so far fetched. 



#12 Helene

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Posted 15 August 2014 - 10:45 AM

The relationship between dance competitions and sports is not so far fetched, although somewhat superficially, since almost all ballet competitions have age limits, and many are rewarding potential, not just rewarding specific performances, which is antithetical to sport, and which is why reputation-judging and political judging are so hotly debated in sports. It's why people hated the restrictions on which professional athletes could compete at the Olympics and were only interested in the "best of the best," not the best baseball players under 22 with less than x years of professional playing.

 

There's no equivalent of a World or National Championship or Olympics in most dance forms that are primarily performance arts.  The very top ballroom dancers compete, and like in skating, their competitive resumes get them more prestigious partnerships, coaching jobs, and choreography gigs.  Ballroom is heavily competition-based at all levels, hence the push to join the Olympics, which, so far, thankfully has been rejected. The closest things to a Pro-Am in ballet is the non-competing partner in ballet competitions.

 

Top ballet dancers and modern dancers do not compete, although there are a few competitions, like Varna, that attract a small number of future greats. Some ballet schools and teachers have reputations for training competition winners, but, it's rare for the students of company affiliated schools to compete, and some, like SAB, actively discourage their students from taking part.  The vast majority of top companies in NA are hiring from their schools, not competitions, even if they offer scholarships to their schools to younger competitors.



#13 diane

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Posted 17 August 2014 - 11:15 PM

I prefer to see ballet - and contemporary dance, and all dance, really - as an art, and not a sport. 

 

Doing something physically athletic, as has been so often and so eloquently emphasised, does not (to my mind) equal playing a sport. 

 

I do not like competitions; unless they are "against one's self". But, that is just me. :) 

 

-d-



#14 angelica

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Posted 18 August 2014 - 01:34 PM

I fall into the art camp - art in motion. 

 

Picking up on this concept, abatt, I like to say that ballet is sculpture in motion--which puts it squarely in the "art" category.



#15 leonid17

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Posted 05 September 2014 - 01:52 AM

Alexandra, thank you for the article.  Not happy but not surprised at the 85% who think ballet is a sport.

I subscribe to Stravinsky's statement that ballet is the highest form of theatrical art, because its sole purpose

is to show beauty.  (Anyone who has both listened to and watched The Sleeping Beauty knows that).

I think we (who love the art form) have a lot of work to do to get the message out.

I am with the 15% who think that ballet at its best is a "High Art."

 

Why oh why have 85% contributed through voting otherwise.

 

I am sorry if I offend, but such a vote result appears to reflect upon the value system of a good number of the contributors.




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