Dance! The art that EVERY culture has in some form or another. People have been dancing for centuries, from folk dances all the way to the creation of hip-hop in the streets of the Bronx. Over time it’s progressed from free-styling for fun to creating a piece to be showcased, to break dancing being considered for the 2024 summer Olympics. All of this begs the question, is dance still an art? Or is it a sport?
The definition of a sport is, “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” That means it’s institutionalized, there’s an official league that sets the standards that everyone is required to follow. There’s low autonomy, expressiveness, spontaneity, and separation from life.
By that standard, dance is a sport. Moreover, there are dance competitions ranging from the state to the world level, and the scoring is the same. On World of Dance, one of the upcoming and growing reality dance competitions, competitors are rated on how well they display technique, choreography, creativity, and overall performance and stage presence. Hollywood Vibe, a national traveling dance convention, and competition rate its competitors on the same standards, as well as music and costuming.
Additionally, at this point dance almost becomes a science. Dancers have to be aware of their lines, what angle their body’s at, if their hands are fisted or bladed; if their feet are together or apart, and where their head is supposed to be looking. They also have to know which count their hitting, if it’s a beat or a snare if the move is tight or smooth. They’re even told what their facial expressions should be. While these things are important whether the routine is being judged or not, it becomes increasingly important when competing for first place in a competition.
On the other hand, dance is essentially the portrayal of an idea.
“I think that’s the most important thing, is what can they say and how can I help them say it. My little kids, I know theirs is going to be strong, and bold, and loud. I know that my older kids, theirs can be that too, but I also like to think about what they have a hard time saying.” Aaleiyah Laumua, dancer and choreographer, says that when choreographing a routine, she thinks of the vibe.
That’s where the art part comes in. When dance is used as a way to express a feeling. When it’s viewed as an art, there is more freedom to showcase your individuality. You’re allowed to really feel the music and connect the message of the song to what you’re feeling in the moment. You’re allowed to use your body to say something, to project what you’re feeling and thinking to the audience and latch on to them, connect with them in a way that is unexplained.
“It’s a way for me to express what I feel, to use the words when I can’t say it. Dance helps me to feel understood by myself, by other people. It’s something that people can relate to, even though they’re not going through the same situations. You can just grow and learn, use your voice, find who you are, be a different person to different songs,” Aaleiyah expressed.
The value of art within cultures and society should not be overlooked. It is a universal language, allowing everyone to say what they want, or understand its beauty. It is a bridge connecting all people, cultures, and societies.
“Art is what brings out the deepest root of our body, which is love. I feel like we are all capable of loving and having light, and art can allow that. Art can bring out the best, and help us understand our weaknesses and insecurities, the darkness that we hold and can remove to find more light. It allows unity. If I walk into a room, anywhere, and we’re all dancing, I feel like that’s my family. I feel like in that moment in time I matter because we’re all doing something we love. That’s why it’s so important because nowadays all we do is just separate people. If we understood the beauty of art, we could all see that our differences are what brings us together and can build a strong community.”
So yes, dance is both an art and a sport, depending on the context of the situation. Either way, whether you’re competing on the World of Dance stage, or jamming out in your room to your favorite song, dance is appreciated and valued by all.
“When y’all get on the stage with these artists, y’all are not just props. Y’all are the icing on the cake. Y’all are the beat to the heart.” As Missy Elliott said in her video vanguard award acceptance speech.