Updated: Aug 27, 2019
One year to go for our Commonwealth Games and I ponder why dancer's are not seen as athletes in today's society. Is it due to their artistry? Surely this is an addition to what they accomplish. I delve deeper to find out more.
Being part of the dance world for over 25 years I understand the mechanics, management and balance of establishment versus talent. Today I need to understand the differences that separate dancers to athletes.
A child can begin dance as young as 4yrs (Some schools take them younger). It is the etiquette, slow safe development of skills together with the performance, strength, flexibility and stamina that sets apart the elite from the average. Within the early years of training, technique is crucial. Having talented pupils' is a great asset to a school. In the hugely competitive business of dance training; especially in the North West of England. It is encouraged to push pupils a stage further and get them competing. (This is usually alongside normal training, examinations and performances). I don't agree on a dancer competing within each term of training, but agree dance competitions for children are great to see the standards of other schools and competitors. They know how good or how much improvement they need. The downside to competing on a regular basis is their focus; time and energy is prioritised on quick fixes to obtain high standard dance routines. It also provides a false expectation to working in the professional world.
(Through adjudicating children's amateur competitions i've seen an increase in 'stunt' steps. Mostly with no technical strength to control the movement - this is such a high risk of injury to the child. In other cases I have seen beautifully advanced skills showing professional control, flexibility, muscle advancement and strength that proves dancers are evolving into professional athletes - Some as young as 8yrs!).
With the Dance World Cup, choreographer competitions, solo, duet, trio, group and production competitions. Performance events internationally that will make your eyes water with excitement. It's all available for amateur dancers, with more popping up every year.
Why are we not creating a professional platform for dancers to compete and represent our country?
I believe there is an easy way to take our elite dancers with rules on what to achieve (Similar to gymnastics - Floor work e.g ballet to encompass intricate batterie, allegro, adage work etc. Other sections involving individual stunts - Fouetté turns / Pirouettes etc). Even group choreography 'themed' can be introduced. This is off the top of my head; but its frustrating to know that there is so much hard work, talent and technique out there within the UK that we should be showcasing it as a country. We just need the platform!
The hours of skill training, body conditioning, aesthetic muscle development, strength, flexibility, endurance, physiology and psychological control to succeed in this business is outstanding. Please remember as with athletes; the strain on the body confirms a short-lived profession. Surely these dance athletes must be acknowledged, funded and supported to join the representation of our highly skilled sport industry.
Lets take a look at athletes
Why not go big and look at the UK Olympic training structure.
Any athlete must first comply with the Olympic Charter and follow the rules of the International Federation (IF) governing their sport. The IFs establish the rules and organise qualifying events, while the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of the athlete’s country supports the athlete and is responsible for entering them for the Games.
National Olympic Committees (NOCs) exist in the different countries of the world that compete. They are one of the three constituents of the Olympic Movement, alongside the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Sports Federations (IFs). The NOCs’ mission is to develop, promote and protect the Olympic Movement in their respective country, in accordance with the Olympic Charter. There are currently 206 NOCs.
Sorry for the jargon... but I am setting the picture from the top down. Now, how they find their athletes and how an athlete trains.
Athlete Performance Awards (APAs)
These serve to contribute to the athlete’s ordinary living costs and their personal sporting costs. APAs are allocated where there is the greatest ‘financial need’ and are subject to a means testing exercise. UK Sport has set a maximum income threshold of £65,000 (including their APA) above which an athlete's APA will begin to be deducted pound for pound. The level of APA received is determined by a number of criteria, not least of which is the level of performance an athlete has achieved and is capable of producing in the future.
While there are variances depending on the sport, three performance categories apply for ‘Podium’ level athletes:
Band A – Medallists at Olympic Games or Senior World Championships or gold medallists at Paralympic Games or Senior World Championships
Band B – A minimum of a top 8 finish at Olympic Games or Senior World Championships or medallists at Paralympic Games or Senior World Championships
Band C – Likely to be major championship performers and those who demonstrate the capacity to achieve a medal result at World or Olympic level within four years but flexibility given to individual sports to set their own criteria.
Athletes on Podium level funding can currently receive APAs to the value of:
Band A – up to £28,000 pa
Band B - up to £21,500 pa
Band C - up to £15,000 pa
Funding is awarded on the basis of an Olympic cycle and commences on 1 April (1st October for Winter Sports) in the year immediately following a Games, for a period of four years.
You need to prepare for long term training. Future Olympians dedicate thousands of hours to the sport. Here's a rough guide for training:
When first introduced to the sport as preteens: 250 hours of training per year, over 6 months.
After making the junior national team as teens: 600 hours per year over 9½ months.
After making the Olympics team in late teens or twenties: 1100 hours per year over 11 months
Below are the subjects you can compete to represent our country... Do you see dance?
The above information is taken from UK Olympic website
An athlete is to specialise in a subject to an elite standard, qualifying through set levels - Can a dancer achieve this if it was available? - YES
Getting coached, meeting and setting new personal best targets is expected as part of their training before qualifying. Can a dancer achieve this? - YES, they already have their coaching and body conditioning regimes in place. They just need the platform for their genre to be acknowledged and created as part of the above list.
Recently with my new pathway in sport therapy I see from all stages of dancers lives their hard work, effort and body punishments to get back to their peek. I am bias on wanting dancers to achieve and set new levels in our ever changing society. I know dance is more than sport; it is an art form of emotion, expression and visual intrigue to an audience. Will setting a platform in sport kill that aspect? I believe not; it can be another branch to the dynamically skilled technique of a dancer that can be recognised publicly.
Below is an article I came across on my quest to do the blog. Melissa gives a brief insight into being a ballerina. Don't forget this is after a hard struggle of training from 4yrs. You can catch full article here
Melissa Hamilton soloist in Royal Ballet. (Taken from an article by Clare Wrathall. The Telegraph. 4th Dec 2011)
In 2010, I was new to being a soloist. You have to be prepared to work hard. Your day can start at 9.30am with class; then rehearsals. If there’s a performance in the evening it can be after 11pm by the time you’ve showered and changed. And then you’re on such a high it’s really late before you can think of sleeping. But unless you’ve felt what it is to be on stage it’s impossible to explain. It’s like a drug!
In Melissa's case her goal was performing to the highest standard within the Royal Ballet as a soloist. The adrenalin rush of success in her performance is parallel to an athlete. Her training, coaching and perseverance is not unique in this field.
Most dancers train like athletes.
How lovely would it be if a professional dancer had a choice to represent their country with full support?
Regardless of your opinion I advocate our UK dance industry and aim to celebrate what we currently have and what opportunities we could have in the future. To keep updated follow this blog, listen to Dance Inspire UK podcast and join in the Facebook group. Website with links to help your career is www.danceinspireuk.com
For sport therapy information and a free download check out my clinic pages.