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Alexandra

Is Ballet an Art or a Sport? -- article

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Sports don't have a narrative and are at best, in terms of art, improvisations. You wait for Steph Curry to do certain fascinating and witty tosses of the basketball, you wait for the ball to describe complex interweavings among players that only the Warriors can do, you listen to the long roll calls of statistics by the sports announcers (like the caller in Square Dance). Basketball can be occasionally "balletic" despite all its clumsy falls and odd gestures, but it's not ballet.

You could say that sports are messy free will and ballet is elegant predestination.

Oh, that is lovely! And the point about improvisation is spot-on.

I've never been excited about the competitive aspect of sports, but the physical skills involved are often quite engaging. Basketball requires a level of mobility and articulation that mirrors a number of contemporary choreographers (especially those who've worked with contact improvisation). I think one of the reasons it's easier to see that kind of fluidity in basketball and soccer is that the plays run much longer than they do in other sports -- baseball and football are especially stop and start.

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I'm not sure it's necessary to choose one alternative or the other. Surely ballet can be both a sport and an art form? Perhaps it's helpful to think of it as a continuum, with pure athletic display at one extreme and Galina Ulanova at the other. It may not even be necessary to judge which is better, sport-like movement for movement's sake or artistic movement that conveys feelings and ideas beyond the movement itself. We each have our own valid preferences when it comes to enjoyment of a performance.

Most performances probably fall into the midrange of the continuum -- good levels of athletic skill and some ability to interpret a character or convey a mood. Some dancers have poor acting ability paired with a beautiful body, others have physical shortcomings that interfere with an above average ability to emote -- the possibilities are many, and again we all have our own levels of tolerance for dancer shortcomings.

Having said all this, I find personally that while I can admire dancers with extreme flexibility, huge jumps and endless pirouettes, I gravitate towards performances that show me a new way to hear the music or to better understand an old story or familiar character. This is what interpretive artists do, and it is a rare skill to be greatly cherished, in my opinion. I'm even willing to put up with technical lapses and physical imperfections in the best of these artists. One can only hope that artistic directors will continue to provide opportunities for these artists in spite of box office and other pressures to feature dancers solely for their beauty or athletic prowess.

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I think ballet is closest to those sports that value perfect execution such as figure skating and diving, then closest to sports where better execution leads to better results (i.e. pole vault and ski jumping) and finally the least in common with those spots where the most important goal is to manipulate an object past the opposing team's defenses and score (hockey, soccer, etc,)

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