The Great Debate

The infamous argument is that dance and cheer are strictly arts, but here is why they should be categorized as sports too

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Chelsea Nguyen

The 2019-2020 Bollywood dance team, Guzaarish, poses for a photo before their weekly Friday afterschool practice. Guzaarish means “to request” in Urdu, junior Pari Gupta said.

Music blasts in the gym. Students cheer on the Guzaarish dancers. After Guzaarish ends, students clap for the cheer team as they watch them create a variety of formations. Then, a flyer is lifted up into the air, supported by two girls at the base.

But what the audience cannot see is the sweat that beads on the cheerleaders’ foreheads. They cannot hear the heavy breathing as they rush from one position to another. They cannot feel the strain of their muscles as they execute each meticulated movement. 

As a dancer of both ballet and jazz, I have heard the claims. “Dance is not a sport; dance is just an art.” This phrase irks me as what most do not realize when they are watching these performances is the focus, strength and endurance that goes into each movement.

It is this criteria that gives me reason to claim that dance is indeed a sport and should be classified as such, just like football or soccer. I think a ball should hardly have anything to do with considering whether an activity is a sport or not. If that was the qualification, then swimming or badminton would not be sports either. 

Because dance is more about self-expression and performance, it is often regarded as more of an art than a sport. However, this does not negate the physical strength and endurance that goes into executing these said performances. 

Cheer is also a victim of this flawed categorization. However, 10 seconds of a routine can have hours upon hours of practicing skills and training behind it. 

UPA’s cheer team is classified as a club not an official sport of the school as it has not done all of the qualifications to become an official sport.

The cheer team holds practices every Tuesdays and Thursdays, which range from an hour and a half to two hours. Each practice is an opportunity for the cheer team to work on cheers and stunts for basketball games or dances for rallies. Senior Natalia Alvarez, who is co-cheer captain with senior Isabella Cayabyab, explained that her teammates leave practice exhausted. 

“After each practice all the girls are super tired. [Cheer teammates] need to have, like, two bottles of water ready for us after practice,” Alvarez said. “I remember talking to a lot of people who couldn’t even finish their [school] work, or once they got home they couldn’t even do their homework just because of how tired they were, so they would have to take a little nap before and then do their work later.”

Dance is no exception to these arduous and tiring practices. As a dancer myself, I have practice every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for at least an hour and a half each night. 

After, I eat a large dinner after putting so much energy and focus into my training and go to bed with sore muscles. 

Junior Pari Gupta, who is co-captain of the Guzaarish club with sophomore Romita Pakrasi, dances with the Arya International Dance Company outside of school and spends five to seven hours training for an upcoming performance. Gupta explained she has been dancing since kindergarten and that dance requires a variety of muscles and endurance, using a football game as her personal comparison.

“It takes the same amount of stamina and muscles to get through a football game as it does a seven-minute dance routine with no break,” Gupta said. 

Gupta explained how one certain move in dance requires holding a plank position while somebody is standing on them, requiring significant upper body strength. 

Like Gupta, Junior Emani Byrd, who is on the varsity girls basketball and volleyball teams at UPA, believes dance and cheer are sports because they require athletic ability.

“There is an extended amount of athletic ability required to execute all the things that cheerleaders and dancers do,” Byrd said, “and a lot of cheerleaders and dancers have the same drive and passion as many basketball and volleyball players have for their sports. I think that’s one of the most important things to have as a student athlete.” 

As like other athletes, dancers do conditioning to strengthen their muscles. Theatre and dance teacher Catherine Dietrich shared how muscles and conditioning are exceptionally important to dance. 

“Conditioning is extremely important to train muscles for strength and willpower in order to sustain a movement or dance without fatiguing or to be able to improve how a move looks, like being able to get air on a jump or being able to lift your leg at a certain angle or level,” Dietrich said. “Core strength conditioning is huge also for being able to properly turn, do movements with proper technique or do lifts.”

The copious amounts of focus it takes to go into a dance or a cheer routine is also a notable factor as to why it is a sport.

“It’s so time consuming,” Alvarez said. “It’s so energy consuming. There’s so much focus that goes into it. I think when you think about sports, you think about someone being energetic, someone who focuses on the game, on what they need to do. I think cheer really ties into that just because we’re always moving. We’re always making sure that we’re doing the right performance. We’re always practicing with one another.” 

Cheer includes tough moves such as tumbling, which involves cheerleaders using their bodies to flip, twist, roll and jump. Another move that requires muscle is being one of the two bases that lift the flyer into the air. Cheerleaders need to keep posture, balance and strong muscles to be able to lift somebody up into the air safely and gracefully. 

Ultimately, the combined factors of focus, strength and stamina are what makes dance and cheer sports just like any sport that you can appreciate. 

“Dance is absolutely a sport,” Dietrich said. “It is a combination of very intense physical sports with the mental acuity of painting a masterpiece, creating fine needlework and solving an intense math equation. It can be done solo or as part of a team. It is a beautiful blend of sport and an art.”

The Guzaarish team filmed a video of them dancing to submit to shows as auditions. Video courtesy of Pari Gupta (11).