Could Ballet Ever Be Part of the Olympic Games?

Posted by on 08.01.2012

OK, I admit it, I am completely addicted to the Olympics.  Watching hard-working athletes receive the world’s most sought-after trophy is inspiring to everyone.  I was completely overwhelmed last night watching our USA women win gold in team gymnastics.  These young women and their families have worked so hard and given up so much.  To see them reach their goal in such a dramatic way brought tears to my eyes.  Their performances last night were breathtaking!  Each one left people across the world wondering, “how do they do that?”

Photo by Brian Mengini. Visit bmengini.com for more.

Watching the Olympics got me wondering, what would it be like if ballet were in the Olympics?  I mean, we are no Shawn Johnson, but we pull off some pretty amazing feats too!  Would it be possible to place ballet on the world stage and allow the best of the best to compete against each other?  We are competitive, we are athletes, and we would wear fabulous dance wear!   So why does dance not have a place in the Olympics?

Sports like swimming and track compare athletes by the clock.  Volleyball games and soccer games compare teams by score.  For these events, the winners are chosen in completely mathematical ways.  But what do you do for a sport that cannot be measured in a numerical way? Gymnastics and diving both appear in the summer Olympics.  Like ballet, they are art forms in and of themselves.  A complex scoring system has been put in place to attempt to ensure accurate and unbiased results.  In the past years, the gymnastics scoring system has been completely overhauled eliminating the possibility of the elusive “perfect 10.”  But how effective is it really?

Take for example the men’s team gymnastics finals.  After scores had been posted, Great Britain fans were cheering for what appeared to be a silver medal.  The judges huddled to discuss the last score given to the Japanese, who were to receive the bronze medal.  After a long discussion, Japan moved up to the second spot, pushing team Great Britain to bronze.  Still a wonderful moment for all the athletes, but it made we wonder, how subjective are these scores?

I don’t mean to create a discussion on the scoring system as it is obviously complicated and well thought out, but I do wish to point out that sports like gymnastics, and art forms like ballet, are very subjective.  Each viewer will interpret what they are seeing in a different way.  Not every audience member leaves the theater feeling the same way.  Art is determined by the viewer.

Perhaps judges could score the technical elements of ballet, but so much more goes into really good dancing. There are emotions behind the movement: a purpose defined by the dancer and a performance quality that is immeasurable.  Often, it is not easy to define what it is that makes a dancer great.  What is great is elements coming together to form something special, something that will touch the audience.  The Olympics certainly gives us something to cheer about, but ballet takes us on a journey that cannot be defined by numbers.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Great post and comments. I basically agree. While there’s no question of ballet’s athletic demands, its inclusion as an Olympic sport would subject it to a scoring system that would pull it away from what we currently see on stage. Earlier this week I remember watching the Chilean male gymnast’s floor exercise (video), and he included some graceful dance-like movements between his tumbling passes, and the commentator candidly noted that those would have been appreciated in a previous time and scoring system, but now are considered time-consuming. (If the artistic element were to survive, ballet would probably have to be scored more closely to figure skating, but even then the technical elements would demand more this, higher that, etc.) I’m glad ballet is not at the Olympics!

    • Jeff-

      Thanks for the comment! The commentator’s statement is very interesting. I have noticed quite a down turn in artistic elements over the past two Olympics, and though I don’t completely understand their scoring system, it seems clear that those things are no longer required. I think it is a shame. I wonder how gymnasts feel about it? I wonder if they feel it takes away from the sport?

  2. I guess this is an international question. Arts tend to be in a lower zone of consideration. The same goes here in Brazil with soccer, a nationwide passion. You can have a big time if the sort of artistic work you develop is the popular, low profile, easy to decode one. Otherwise, years of pure dedication unfortunately seems and sounds just for nothing sometimes, which is a crime. In the case of ballet artists it is much more dramatic because they need every move and choreography to be organic. It takes time. Anyway, ballet has an athletic aspect that could be considered maybe a kind of sport. I don’t know how the groups could compete, how it would be the criteria, but there is a lot of athletic preparation in ballet dancer work.

    • Marcelo-

      Ballet is absolutely a kind of sport from the athletic standpoint. But there are those added elements, ie. the artistic aspect, are very unique and hard to measure. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Dance, in a certain form, has a place in the Olympics already, although it is not ballet by any stretch (yeah, I said that!). Other commenters mention that same idea and we can check out the rhythmic gymnastics for a more dance-like approach.

    I agree with the comments above: I think the artistic aspect is much more important to ballet and the required scoring would dilute the artistic side of ballet over time to where it would eventually resemble today’s gymnastics. Less art, more tricks, and mostly performed by 15-year olds (serious, mature dancers need not apply).

    But ballet and other performance arts *do* have a problem in the U.S.: dwindling audiences. Sure, some companies and orchestras and artists have large followings, but they are few and far between. The marketing muscle that makes 22 guys on a grass field draw 80,000 live screaming fans (and I am one of them on a Saturday or three) just does not exist for arts in the U.S., at least outside of a very few big music acts. Our culture raises people from infancy to appreciate and participate in competitive sports, not art. The culture often goes so far as to devalue the arts whenever arts might interfere with sports money. And arts are clearly associated with elitist attitudes compared to the beer and brats leaning of sports (although neither association is actually true).

    If you would like ballet and other arts to be more widely appreciated, then you must begin at the age of one or two in the home, just like competitive sports. There also has to be consistent, even though small, rewards for participation, not just an annual shot at being a Nutcracker “Party Girl” or a recital sunflower; every week something needs to happen beyond class and rehearsal, and something big has to go on the wall at home to be admired and exclaimed over.

    Ballet, like most arts and possibly even more than many arts, is one where a decade or more of practice and training, and recovery from injury, are necessary before something really special happens. Ballet, especially, is a life-lesson in deferred gratification and the majority of people drop out before even the tiniest recognition or reward.

    So the marketing plan is:
    1. Build the audience from infancy.
    2. Offer continual reward to participants.
    3. Show the path of progression.
    4. Flatten the demographic.
    5. Demonstrate the opportunity to make money, lots of it.

    And prepare to wait a generation of two before it all pays off.

    • Mike-

      What a fabulous comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave this post. Your insight is extremely interesting, particularly the plan for marketing ballet. I very much agree with all of your comments. I think marketing ballet is the most important thing. This is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about social media for ballet. Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook allows an amazingly unique platform for ballet to reach out to the younger generations.

      Thanks again for you thoughts.

  4. Great post! I absolutely agree with everything you said. I certainly think dance would be an amazing sport in the Olympics, but I’m glad it’s not. It would kill a part of the artistry that makes dance so beautiful. We pride ourselves in making the hardest things look effortless. It’s one of those double-edged swords that I love about dance.

    • Thanks for the comment Dancing Branflake. I am glad we agree and that you enjoyed the post!

  5. Actually, Japan was 4th and Ukraine was set to receive bronze. The score was a radical revision and Ukraine moved to 4th and were not medalists at all.

    As for ballet, today’s article in Slate, showing the videos of how dancelike gymnastics used to be and how it has changed crystallized my opinion. Since scores need to be based on something tangible, IMO making dance an Olympic sport would only increase the emphasis the current ptediction for tricks, a trend already too prevalent. I love Vasiliev’s amazing barrel turns, Semionova’s quadruple fouettes, Osipova’s high-flying leaps. However I fear that these feats will be overvalued because they can be quantified. Artistry could take a back seat to them. So no, we already have enough ballet competitions. No Olympics please.

    • Thanks for clarifying that! The article I was reading must have been off. I agree with you, the gymnasts used to add more artistic elements to their routines, such as the floor exercise. But I am sure they have found it unnecessary as it cannot affect the score.

      Thanks for the comment Lisa!

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