It can be easy to think of dancers simply as performers. To most of the general public, the stage is the home of a dancer; it’s the space in which audiences see dancers the most. And it’s such a specific space, one that has been painstakingly groomed and placed to evoke certain feelings, tell certain stories, and convey certain ideas. Dancers are trained to inhabit that space in the most fearless, most beautiful way possible. The image projected to the public is one that has been airbrushed and edited, in a sense.
Society views different subjects and activities in different categories: humanities, STEM, sports, the arts, etc. Our culture likes to separate and categorize in order to define and rationalize all of the different ways we communicate, act, and live. Yet, many things live at the intersection of these categorizations. Dance, for example, is not just a practice in performance, but also a study of artistry, intelligence, and athleticism. To say this, of course, brings up an age old question: are dancers athletes? Can art and athleticism truly be combined?
I believe the difference between art and athleticism isn’t the work that they do. In fact, dancers and athletes do a lot of the same work, physically and mentally. Our bodies are pushed to their extremes: jumping higher, being physically active for longer, turning more, running faster. We spend hours and days and months and years fine tuning our muscles, stretching and strengthening and turning them into precision instruments. We push ourselves mentally to believe that we can do things we’ve never done before, to believe that there is more in us after we feel extreme fatigue, to believe our bodies are capable of so much more than we know currently. The purpose of this work, however, is different: the goal of an athlete is to be the best they can be so their team can succeed and win in the game, match, or competition. The purpose of dancers’ work is to perform onstage, to transcend the fatigue and exhaustion to create something of beauty.