‘It takes an athlete to dance but an artist to be a dancer’
The Paris 2024 Olympics have been a talking point for dancers over the past couple of weeks as Breaking endured its consideration to become a sport within the games. Opinions have varied, and sparks have flown, but ultimately this historical moment has caused me to question whether dancers are in fact athletes as oppose to artists.
I’ve also considered why the label matters and what Hip Hop culture is set to gain from the use of either. How are dancers viewed in comparison to how we would like to be viewed? Our labels are important to us, particularly as Hip- Hop dancers; we pride ourselves on preserving the culture through traditional labels such as b-boys, poppers and lockers. We own our labels and embody them so it’s essential that they’re correct. Black culture has historically been stolen and appropriated, so the community are protective- and rightly so.
Firstly, I considered what it means to be an athlete and if a dancer subsequently fits that mould. An athlete is defined as ‘a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise or game requiring physical skill.’
There is no doubt that dancers possess a tremendous amount of physical skill regarding their agility, stamina and strength. As with athletes, dancers are required to regularly train to effectively execute movement, and they too are threatened by injury. Both dancers and athletes condition their bodies to maintain physical longevity. By current definition, it appears that dancers are indeed athletes, however, I felt it was important to look at where the term derives from.
Athlete stems from the Latin term ‘athleta’ meaning to contend for a prize. This signifies the competitive element attributed to athleticism. The general public are likely to associate dance with performance as oppose to competition, however, within the urban diaspora, there are very competitive elements of dancing such as battles. So dancers have the physical attributes to be deemed athletes and dance also possesses the competitive nature required. As a result, it would appear that it’s simple to label dance as a sport and its participants as athletes. Sport demonstrates how the body can perform beyond our pre-conceived perceptions. Dance is the ultimate embodiment of that. Dancers exhibit incredible strength and physical fitness while making their movements look effortless. I believe it is in, creating this aesthetic appeal that general audiences can lose sight of the skill required to execute such movement.
For me, adding music and context to movement completely changes how it is perceived. Music is the force driving me to express. Dance is far too nuanced to merely be a sport. It engages the body and mind to such a high level of complexity so that ideas and emotions can be expressed. This is an incredible power which, for me, sets dance aside from sport. Dance is a powerful mode of artistic expression and I fear the fundamental reason we’re considering adapting that view is because sport is regarded higher within society. Athletes receive more recognition, media coverage and funding opportunities than dancers. Sport features far more prominently in our education systems in comparison to dance. As a result, it would appear that in shifting the label, we would open ourselves up to this exposure and perceived support.
Honestly, I feel like we’re simplifying language and using familiar terms so that people don’t have to break out of their comfort zone and actually work to understand the value and complexity of a dancer. Yes, I want to be recognised for my incredible physical capabilities, but I want to be remembered for my art.
I, and many dancers I have spoken to, are hoping for a future whereby artistic athleticism is understood, valued and celebrated.
Big Blairo x