Many don’t think ballet is a sport simply because when you watch a ballet performance you can’t see the tremendous physical effort dancers provide that is intentionally disguised to bring us a representation of grace and beauty. We can’t see how much it costs and that is the magic of ballet. Unless you know of the complexity of the technique, you can’t admire the dancers’ prowess and strength as you do for athletes. Even more, dancers are trained and told that we SHOULDN’T see their struggle! Indeed, the audience is not supposed to be aware of the hard work involved. We are moved not only by the story but also by the pure beauty of the movement we are gazing at.
Ballet at its beginnings
Is ballet a sport? This question and debate about whether ballet is a sport or not is a recent one because in the beginning, ballet techniques were not as complex. Dance was a social court pastime. There were no such moves such as pirouettes and quick beats of the feet! It’s in 1661 with the establishment of the ‘Academie Nationale de Musique et de Danse’ by Louis XIV, that the classical method was born. Professional dancers emerged. Ballet technique became more sophisticated and physically demanding. However, ballet was considered art and its sole purpose was for entertainment.
The art of ballet
Why is it considered an art form?
Art (noun): ‘The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’
Wikipedia : ‘Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.’
The essence of a classical ballet performance such as ‘Giselle’ is to tell the audience a story. It’s a visual creation of a story. Everything from the designing of the costumes, stage settings and make-up is essential to the overall audience’s reaction. It demands aesthetics, creative skills and imagination only comparable to an art-form.
Apart from the whole ‘ensemble’ view point, let’s dig deeper into the ballet dancers’ skills themselves. Singers have their voices, painters have their hands, brushes and colors, dancers have their bodies to express emotions and tell a story in the form of art.
The intricate and perfected technique itself is a work of art because the movements and steps are not natural. Turned out legs, jumping on pointed feet are not innate motions. The method was imagined, created, developed.
Dancers are expected to have these skills and embellish them by adding their own emotional work to their elaborate technique. They have to be able to ‘narrate’ through gestures and making it look easy!
Remarkable dancers master the positions and transitions in order to express the art.
Football for instance, doesn’t combine lighting, costumes, music, decors and the visual ecstasy of beautiful bodies jumping in the air.
Athletes compete for a prize or a medal and they don’t have to narrate a story while operating.
What beauty does it transmit to swim, run, jump? Don’t they simply demonstrate their strength and aptitude?
Yet ballet is certainly a performance art in which physical merit is fundamental. It takes incredible chore strength and endurance.
The athleticism of ballet dancers
Why is it considered a sport?
Sport (noun): ‘An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.’
Athlete definition: ‘a person who is trained or skilled in exercises or sports requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina’.
The physical efforts that are required from a ballet dancer is equal to any other sport athletes. Ballet dancers are super fit, agile and strong.
It requires a lot of energy to leap and jump for 2 hours during a performance and great stamina to do certain poses. It also demands a considerable mental strength to coordinates steps as well as achieving a highly regulated technique. It takes command over the body.
Ballet just like sport requires extreme training and dedication to reach at peak physical achievement levels.
There are so many similarities within their practice sessions requiring long hours of training that are rigorous and challenging.
As for the competitive element, dancers do compete and strive for the principal role. But so do actors and singers. Though ballet is not an Olympic sport, today, dancers do compete to get a prize. There are dance competitions such as the YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix), the international prix de Lausanne and the WBC (World Ballet Competition).Some believe that it limits dancers to only doing tricks and that it ruins the art of dance.
Some call it ‘an artistic sport’ just like Ice dance, synchronized skating and synchronized swimming are. They combine sport and art. They have a very strict technique challenging the physical endurance as well as the interpretation of the music.
Ballet dance training can be compared to a high intensity interval training with bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of lower intensity moves and rest.
Barre, a sport developed from ballet
So, yes, ballet is a good way to get fit. It’s an intense workout and that is why it has become a trendy choice in the fitness realm. Ballet barre fitness is a sport that has developed from ballet. It is mix of ballet moves, yoga and Pilates stretching techniques. Though ballet barre fitness is inspired from ballet, it is very different. Are emphasized the very basic moves only. The major difference is that ballet is indeed a physically created art.
Ballet is unique in that it is both!
Undeniably, one can’t argue that ballet is one the most physically demanding of all art forms. It requires a huge technical proficiency. Ballet dancers are artists as well as athletes but the technique of ballet is art. It is not bidding for IOC recognition because to this day, it is considered an art.
However, it requires the essence of sport. So we may ask ourselves if sport can be art? Some debate that Olympic athletes are performing art too.