Dance and the Olympics: A Never Ending Debate
Arabesque, dégagé, retiré and pirouetté are only a very small amount of the technical terms used to describe various dance movements. And no, I didn’t throw these fancy words in to illustrate I know French because if we’re being honest that’s about the extent of my French vocabulary. I used those words to show that in fact there is a technical side to dance that some don’t know about, and that it too has skills that must be perfected just like any other sport.
And yes I just called dance a sport.
With the 2014 Winter Olympics in full force I am finding myself defending dance as a sport even more so than usual. I’ve been dancing since the age of four and ever since I can remember I’ve been asking the same question, “why can’t we see dance in the Olympics?” Over the years I’ve gotten a variety of answers ranging from, “dance is an artistic sport and doesn’t really have a place in the competition,” or “its just too objective.”
There are many pros and cons to including dance in the Olympics and I think its important to look at both sides. Like many people do I struggle with the fact that in the summer Olympics we see gymnastics, a very technical, but yet at times graceful sport. And in the winter, figure skating which even includes events titled “team ice dance free dance” and “short ice free dance.” Hello, anyone seeing what I see there? And yes, I know that both gymnastics and ice skating take extreme talent, dedication and years of practice, but so does dance!
If your problem with putting dance in the Olympics comes down to an issue of judging, I say why treat it any differently than this so called “ice dancing.” In the Olympics there is a set of nine judges and one referree selected to judge the ice skating competition. Each event is also given a different set of technical elements that must be incorporated into each skater or skaters piece, which then makes up their score. Dance could work in a very similar fashion. Each person or group would have a routine that must incorporate a certain skill set. As I said in the beginning dance has a variety of technical terms and movements that could be judged and scored just like those of the Olympic figure skaters.
And if the issue is objectivity or it being too artistic I again have to come back to figure skating. I feel as though what makes the sport enjoyable and what takes an average athlete to an Olympian is their passion and skills, and the way in which they express these through their routines. Dance is very much the same way, each dancer has a different way of expressing their emotion and techniques which makes it so beautiful.
So while I may never live to see the day that dance is an Olympic event, I hope I will see the day when it is treated and respected as more of a sport.
One of the most popular dance television shows on the air today would have to be Lifetime’s Dance Moms, but what most viewers don’t realize is how fake the show is. The show follows studio owner Abby Lee Miller in her day to day routine as a dance teacher, choreographer and business woman. What the show fails to convey is the real side and story of competition dance.
Having grown up in the competition dance world I can’t even begin to tell you how annoying shows like Dance Moms are. My friends who don’t come from a dance background, but are familiar with the show are always asking me, “is that really what dance is like?!” NO. No it’s not at all what really goes on and here’s why.
The vast majority of dance studios don’t have a system that ranks dancers based on their performances each week. Abby Lee has created this pyramid, where each week the girls compete against one another to get on top, YUCK! Sure, it’s absolutely normal for there to be different levels within one competition team, but it’s certainly not right to pin the girls against each other. I’m convinced this pyramid scheme was created for the show, well at least I sincerely hope it was.
The fact that Abby Lee makes the girls learn a new routine once a month, so not realistic. Here again is another idea that was created just for television ratings. I get it, viewers don’t want to see the dancers perfecting and performing the same dances for a whole season. But hey thats how the real dance world works. Typically a competition team learns the dances they will compete that year in the late summer or early fall. They then spend numerous hours a week perfecting those routines and perform them throughout the year. Competition season is generally understood to run from the first of the year and end with a big national competition in the early summer. So as you can see this is a year long deal, and yes dancers perform and work on the same dances for a whole competition season!
Not all mothers who have dancers are like the ones on the show. There are some who come close to the caddy, bitchy and downright nasty moms that you see on the show, but for the most part they are just normal parents. Sure you’ll have a few of what are generally called “stage moms” running around the studio. These women are the ones who are always making sure their little Susie is the one getting all the attention in class, and making sure her daughters costume shines the brightest. But again, the show highlights the drama among the mothers and the mothers interactions with Abby Lee making it seem as though all moms in the dance world have cat like claws.
What I’m getting at is yes go ahead and watch the show for entertainment purposes, but please for the sake of me and other girls who have devoted their lives to competitive dance don’t think we’re all a bunch of crazy girls with even crazier mothers.
Drama drama drama.
UDA College Nationals: A Closer look at the top 2
For those not insanely obsessed with dance or college dance team nationals like myself, let me first give you a brief explanation of what exactly it’s all about. So, you know that group of girls you see wearing the sparkly outfits and dancing with the band during football games? Well guess what? They actually dance and compete against other girls in shiny costumes at a national competition! College dance teams compete at the Universal Dance Association (UDA) college nationals every January in Walt Disney World. Each team works for months before the competition putting together a routine which they will compete at most two times, once in semi finals and if lucky enough then again in the finals. So now that we’ve all got the basic idea of whats going on lets talk about the big dogs.
1st place: The University of Minnesota
I can’t begin to talk about this team without saying that after taking 1st place in 2014 in both the jazz and pom category, they have now won 5 years in a row. Impressive. So what is so great about this team… EVERYTHING! No, seriously these girls have got it all, clean lines, amazing technique and probably the most impressive is the fact that they move as one. Having got the chance to participate in college nationals for three years myself, I know that one of the most difficult things to perfect is synchronization, and this team has it down. Every finger tip is in the same place and every part of their bodies move at exactly the same time and manner. Their 2014 routine was nothing less than spectacular. I was however not a huge fan of their music choice, which does have a significant role in the quality of a dance, but I loved, as always their choreography. One thing that I had to get used to in the world of college nationals is the unwritten rules, for example it seems every dance must include a certain number of members lifting another member in a creative, never before seen way, and that there must be parts of the dance where different groups of people do different choreography. With all that being said I think Minnesota does a great job of incorporating these elements without making it seem forced. I also like these elements because I can watch the dance again and again and each time find something I didn’t see before. I really could go on for days about this teams technique and the way they stretch through every once of their bodies. It truly is breath taking. Don’t believe me…. see for yourself (I must warn you though for copyright reasons you can’t watch the whole dance, but I’m pretty sure you’ll get the idea)
2nd place: The University of Tennessee
The volunteers have forever been known in the dance world for having a great group of dancers that can compete and hold their own at nationals. The early to mid 2000’s were really the years that Tennessee excelled at UDA nationals, but in the past 6 years or so they’ve just been trying to claw their way back into first place. Like Minnesota, Tennessee has a team of fabulous dancers with great technique and emotion. What hurts Tennessee the most is they just aren’t that consistent, which is something you have to be in the crazy world that is college dance nationals. At times they seem to have everything together, but then the next time you see them perform something seems off. Whether this is just me I’m not sure. My biggest issue or problem with Tennessee is song choice. Last year they did a cover of “What a Feeling,” which was pretty but yet so cliche. And the year before that was some battle music with a voice over of some demon like character talking about winning, anyway it was all very confusing. But the 2014 music choice blows them all away, a cover of “We Will Rock You,” like come on now how bold? Don’t get me wrong I am ALL about having some pride and even a little bit of cockiness when going into competition, but to pick that song with the possibility of not winning is kinda like walking in with a gold medal already around your neck. And the fact they walked away with second place again this year after dancing to that song was in my book a little bit embarrassing. But you of course are allowed to make your own decision, so have a look.