How Should We Categorize Dance?

Sonia Ivancic ’25 in Arts | January 13, 2023

"Is dance really a sport?" is an age-old question that many dancers get asked. Most non-dancers believe dance falls under the category of arts more so than it does sports. While there are definitely a few reasons why dance leans towards the arts and is therefore excluded from the bracket of sports, I believe it shares exactly as much in common with other sports as it does with forms of art. 
To start, we need to understand what a sport is. The dictionary defines a sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Breaking down this definition, sports have five major parts. The first is the act of accomplishing a goal, which usually involves winning a competition or game. The second major part of sports is accomplishing these goals through athletes' skills and techniques. Most of the time, the athletes accomplish this goal by working collaboratively as a team. Moreover, sports always involve physicality or exercise. Lastly, sports are a form of entertainment for their viewers. 
Before comparing dance with these five aspects of sports, we must establish that dance has two different goals: competition and performance. Competitive dance lines up exactly with the five components of sports outlined above. Unlike performative dance, the goal of  competitive dance is to win, just like that of any other typical sports match. Although the existences of both solo sports and dance numbers seem to contradict dances’ being a sport, both activities usually focus on the importance of working together. In either case, each group member must put in their best effort, work on the same page as the others, use their skills for the group’s advantage, and act with the intent of success for the entire team. Third, dance is extremely physical. Dancers must have precise control over each muscle in their body, from their necks and heads to their toes, as well as muscular strength, especially in the legs, core, and arms. Flexibility is often a large component as well. Serious dancers put in the same amount of commitment and practice as other serious athletes do, from the diligent perfection of their technique to lengthy rehearsals. So, stamina and cardiovascular endurance are key to both activities. Entertainment, though more of a focus on performative dances, is still present in competitive dances, because competitive dance must entertain a group of judges responsible for scoring performances. Lastly, the techniques that dancers portray help them accomplish the goal of winning the competition. This is the same in sports, where players with more refined skills are more likely to win a game. 
From this analysis, it seems as though dance fits exactly with the definition of a sport. In what ways is it then classified as an art form? The answer lies more so in performative dance. This is because, between these two mediums, the goal of the dancer changes. Instead of striving for first place, the aim shifts to shaping the viewing experience of the audience members. Dance becomes a form of entertainment as the dancers try to express a theme through their movements. This exactly fits the purpose of art: to portray a message creatively. 
Looking through this lens, even visual arts, music, and theater share many aspects in common with sports. Working in a team, using skills and techniques, focusing on entertainment, and winning a competition all match these other art forms. But what they all mostly lack—which dance has—is the element of physical exercise. This is what propels dance toward the definition of a sport. However, the creativity and expression of dance also lean dance toward arts. In such a way, dance lands in a gray area, this muddled space between two defined sports and arts. It shares all aspects but one with sports (creativity), and all but one with arts (exercise). 
The question of whether dance is a sport is still left unanswered because of how it shares just as many commonalities with sports as it does with arts. Therefore, dance must be taken just as seriously as “typical” athletics in the world of sports. Perhaps the little media attention that dance has influenced our belief that dance is not an actual sport. When we turn on the TV, soccer, football, tennis, and golf are what usually appears on screen. This idea of what sports is, derived since childhood, shapes our concrete, innate understanding of sports as we age. We should consciously change this perception, because, without doing so, we dancers can often feel as though our lifetime’s hard work, which matches the commitment of athletes, has less worth than athletics. The low recognition dancers receive unevenly matches the intense dedication we put into our sport. As a society, we already think of dance as an art. Now, we must begin to think of it as a sport, just as much as it is a form of expression.