"Dancing requires major skill and hard work, but it's not a sport."
This comment on my Pinterest feed sparked a huge debate about the nature of ballet. One side of the argument claimed that ballet was not a sport because it didn't contain a winner and a loser. It didn't depend on competitiveness and measurable achievements. The other side of the disagreement reasoned that ballet deserves the title of "sport" because of its close to impossible physical expectations and the passion of dancers.
I believe that they are both wrong.
I know ballet. I've studied, lived and loved it for 13 years and counting, but I can say with confidence that ballet is not a sport. Ballet is also not an art. It is more than either of those two words have to offer, and more than society knows how to label. Ballet lives in the grey area between athletic challenges and artistic abilities. It dances with the acknowledgement that people won't understand it, growing in the place where the heart meets the body.
It is true that ballet, like a sport, requires intense physical ability. A ballerina must jump splits in the air, turn circles around the stage and control every part of her body. Not to mention she does all of this on her toes. A danseur (male ballet dancer) must possess the strength to leap high enough to split twice in the air, turn long enough to rotate six times and lift ballerinas countless times.
I can't count the number of times that I left practice red and sweaty. My toes grow callouses so thick that I can't tell where my toenail begins. My whole body aches with soreness and tiredness after a long run of rehearsals.
Unlike soccer or football, though, ballet doesn't do these physical feats for a score or a game. This frees ballet to be dance for the sake of dance itself. It isn't measured or controlled by a league or referee; it's monitored by technique and measured by art.
This in no way deprives ballet of a competitive and achievement-oriented nature. Rather, in ballet, the competition isn't an opponent, it is perfection. This goal drives ballerinas to spend hours on end perfecting every little and big movement alike. This prize can't be won at the end of the game or even performance. It is one a dancer strives for, but never quite achieves, and that is the mystery of ballet, the artistry of a dancer.
Ballet gives to the world what no other sport or art can give. It gives the effort of being effortless. It pairs mental challenges, physical extremes and artistic technique to create something that can only hold one name, and that isn't "sport" or "art." It is ballet.