Is Dance a Sport?

Views from Darien High School students and professional on where dance stands in the sports world.


Caoilainn Bischoff

Dance requires strength, practice, agility, and mental toughness – most people consider dancers to be athletes, but is dance a sport? Credits: Caoilainn Bischoff

Fiona Bischoff, Writer

What does Darien think? 

Many will lay their life down to defend their sport.

Perhaps it is a professional golfer, always ready to explain why hitting a 2-inch rubber ball with a metal club while standing stationary is, indeed, a sport. The same thing goes with dance, whether coming from a principal ballerina or a commercial artist. So why is it that people are so eager to challenge dance as a sport?

There are many clichés that people associate with sports, whether inadvertently or not. This includes the presentiment that being on a team qualifies a sport; or many use the qualification that if it’s in the Olympics, it’s automatically in– no debate needed. One often evaluates if there’s a “winner” or “loser,” the epitome characterizations within competitive sports. Though in some cases, it requires a little more outside thinking or bending of the ‘rules’ in order to deem a specific activity as a sport. 

But some prefer a more straightforward way of looking at it; the Oxford dictionary defines sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” So why is the debate of dance as a sport such a hot topic? In order to address this, let’s turn to the athletes, artists, and students in Darien: 

Hip-Hop dancers use their time on stage as a way of self-expression. Photo by Maick Maciel – Creative Commons

Perhaps people are so hesitant to say that dance is a sport because the lines of what actually defines one are not clear cut. Merriam-Webster’s version of sport is simply “a physical activity that is done for enjoyment,” and given this, it would be easier and more comfortable for some to agree in saying that dance is a sport. Junior Gerrit Davidson said, “some people think that if you’re doing something that’s not outdoors then it’s not necessarily a sport…a lot of people have strong opinions against it.” Davidson is not currently participating in any sports, but plans on joining outdoor track in the spring. Although somewhat superficial, a common association that people make is between sports and a field. Quickly ask someone to name a random sport, and chances are their first answer will be football. This impulsive connection is a reminder that our idea of a sport has been built from long-established societal constructs.

The situation within a town is a microcosm of all of society: The social and cultural influences in a town are, of course, going to influence one’s perception of any topic. With a sports-focused town, where lacrosse and football are the most publicized and at the top of many regional charts, a specific psyche emerges that is reflective of Darien’s normative sports culture. 

With a little bit of prompting though, the majority of Darien High School students came to the conclusion that dance is a sport. This may come to a surprise to some, but if asked with a simple yes or no question, 82% of  students and teachers agreed. 


Should Dance Be Considered A Sport?

To those who may not agree with dance being a sport, consider the following: 

The athleticism involved in dance– ballet, jazz, commercial hip hop, or tap– is just as rigorous if not more than some sports. Studies have qualified dance as a valid alternative to traditional sports activities, where one’s participation in dance provides physiological and psychological benefits to both health and medically compromised individuals. It increases cardiovascular fitness and musculoskeletal strength; It regulates body weight and psychological health, and finally, it can contribute to the prevention of strokes, diabetes, and some cancers. Of course, these benefits are dependent on the rigor and type of dance, however the recreational activity often encompasses intense physical activity. 

The physicality of dance is not always the source of controversy over this debate, though. Samara DiMattia M.S. P.T offers an additional perspective to what constitutes a sport. She regards dance not only in terms of the physical demand, but also for the dedication and time commitment that dancers must make. DiMattia has had a professional career in both Dance Medicine and dance. From NYC company-bound dancers to Olympic-bound gymnasts, DiMattia treats a wide variety of athletes of different ages and sports. Through her extensive experience, she wholeheartedly agrees that dance is a sport. 

Credits: Fiona Bischoff


So, What is the Final Word? 

Many will not deny that how a sport takes shape in a specific community will strongly influence how people define it in their mind. So, perhaps the question Should dance be considered a sport is not the most important matter at hand, but rather we should focus our attention on giving dancers as much credit as other athletes get. 

The reason why this debate exists is due to one party that aggressively rejects dance as an equivalent activity to sports, and a party of dancers and other appreciators of the art who show up to defend their passion. There needs to be a better understanding that dance teaches physical and cognitive discipline. And through taking a closer look at this debate, it is clear that conversations need to be had surrounding health conscious, competitive cultures, and commercialization of sports within the town of Darien and outside of it. DiMattia believes that there is a severe lack of support for the dance industry, and there must be a much larger effort in fostering and improving it– both in Fairfield County and on a national scale.  “It’s a good conversation to have–” junior Chloe Bortel says: “If the person’s actually going to listen to you.”