Before I begin, I must preface this by mentioning the fact that ballet is competitive. Ballerinas are extremely competitive with each other and the ballet world has a hint of a cutthroat culture. However, ballerinas are competitive with each other in the same way artists, musicians and actors are. Ballet itself is not a competitive sport; it is an art.
For years, the debate of art versus sport has angered ballerinas and has taken away the focus of the true artistry of dance. Yes, it cannot be ignored that ballet is an exceptionally physical performance art. According to a 1975 study done of 61 physical activities conducted by Dr. James A. Nicholas in the Journal of Sports Medicine, ballet ranked number one as the most physically and mentally demanding. The physical aspects of ballet are unnatural: turnout of the hips and dancing on your toes in pointe shoes are huge strains on the body. But, when attending a ballet performance, an audience member will never be able to see the strain on the body because of the ballerina's ability to convey emotion, passion, and artistry. People attend ballets to see grace and beauty, not to see ballerinas struggle with the physical intensity of dance.
In recent years, the performance of dance has changed. The phenomena of dance competitions has pervaded the ballet world. These competitions, such as the renowned Youth America Grand Prix, ruin the art of dance and completely remove the soul and emotion necessary in the art of ballet. This is how ballet and other forms of dance have become closer to a sport than an art. Art is not something that can be judged on a scale of 1-10 because the judgment takes away the passion and creativity. Competitions simply highlight the athleticism of ballet and limit dancers to only performing tricks. The documentary of young dancers, First Position, demonstrates the pressure placed on ballerinas to perfect such tricks in ballet competitions. The focus is never on the dancer's performance as a whole, but rather the perfection of her pirouettes or split leap.
Dance competitions have also spilled over into mainstream television, with shows such as Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. These programs eliminate the artistic side of dance and skew America's perception of the dance world and what dance truly is. On So You Think You Can Dance, aspiring professional dancers perform roughly one-and-a- half-minute routines and are then critiqued by a panel of judges, oftentimes actors or other celebrities who have absolutely no knowledge of dance and technique. Each instance in which a dancer kicks her leg above her head or does a quadruple pirouette, the studio audience erupts in applause and cheers. In actual ballet and dance performances, a dancer is expected to have these skills and enhances them by adding his or her own emotional performance to their perfected technique. For many, So You Think You Can Dance leaves viewers believing dance is a competitive sport. The choreographed routines strive for the "wow!" factor while simultaneously removing basic ballet technique and artistic freedom that has been taught to dancers around the world for centuries.
The true "wow!" factor of ballet comes from the entire performance as a whole. There is never a singular step that defines a ballet; it is the entire production that leaves audiences astounded and amazed. The purpose of ballets, especially the classical ones, is to tell the audience a story. Everything from the intricate set designs to the elegant costumes, to even the make-up, is crucial to a ballet's tale and overall impression on the audience. So many artistic elements are combined to make a ballet performance what it is, and the dancers' passion and emotion are the final touch to the show.
If dancers moved robotically and only performed tricks, ballets would never effectively tell a story and invite audiences into a two-hour world of enchantment and fantasy. Just because ballet is a performance art does not mean we should only pay attention to the steps and physicality, ultimately making it a sport. For it is the emotion and creativity in each dancer that ultimately makes ballet what it is: an art.
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