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Why dance should be an Olympic sport


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It’s likely that most of you have not heard of a little thing called DanceSport. In fact, it’s not a little thing at all - the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) has been going since 1935 and was granted full recognition by the International Olympic Committee in 1997.

DanceSport is basically competitive ballroom dancing, including classical ballroom such as the foxtrot and the waltz, and Latin and modern styles like salsa, rock ‘n’ roll and swing.

WDSF has not, as of yet, made its way into the Olympics. The problem is that DanceSport and dancing are still fighting to be recognised as a sport in the eyes of the general public.

Many people find it difficult to class dancing as a sport. Why? Because - they argue - it’s not competitive, there’s no teamwork, it’s just learning a routine, there’s no rules, it’s not physically demanding like football or rugby or basketball…

Let me stop you there. First of all, dancing of any kind can be competitive. This is proven by the very presence of the WDSF and of shows like Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance  - and don’t tell me nobody gets excited at the mention of a dance-off.

The dance industry itself is also very competitive; in a professional ballet company competition is intense and dancers are pitted against each other for lead roles just as tennis players compete to be no.1 seed.

Working as a team is the name of the game in dancing - cheerleading, for instance, often involves complex stunts which require a huge amount of teamwork. If any dancers don’t play as a team the whole choreography falls apart.

There are no rules in dancing, true, and little element of the unpredictable. It is not and arguably never could be as nerve-racking as a football game, where every decision could mean victory or defeat.

But that doesn’t mean it's boring to watch. Diving or ice-skating or Gymnastics (all Olympic sports) may have no easily observed or defined ‘rules’, yet they are judged. If you understand the nuances and challenges of dancing it can be just as captivating as any of these sports.   

Finally, the claim that dancing is not physically challenging is just plain wrong. Dancers are athletes. The strain their bodies endure is on par with any other sportsperson. And dancers suffer pain and injury just as athletes do, but they can’t complain about it. If a muscle tears or and ankle pulls on the dance floor a dancer must act like nothing has happened; they don’t get a time out or a physio rushing to help.

But there is more to it than that; if dancing became an Olympic sport it would be a dramatic, positive step for those within the sport and for potential fans. Here’s why...

The WDSF complies with the Anti-doping code set by WADA, a requirement for any Olympic sport, but WDSF does not include all dance styles - ballet or hiphop or street, for example. Because these styles are not formally recognised as sport, and are not in the Olympics, they have no obligation to comply with Anti-Doping policy.

There is a considerable drugs problem connected to the professional world of dancing, particularly ballet, where dancers are put under huge physical and mental strain as they strive for perfection. Many have turned to cocaine to replace meals, cope with pain and depression or simply to let loose. Patrick Bissell, leading Principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, for instance, died from a drug overdose in 1987. An investigation was launched after his death but little has changed. If ballerinas were also Olympic athletes there would certainly be more action to stop drugs and doping in dance.   

Olympic dance would, arguably, promote the female image in sport. Women have always played a predominant role in dance; it’s one of the few sports – yes sports – where the pictured stereotype is a woman. Including dancing in the Olympics would generate more respect and attention to dancing but also to women in sport in general.  

The more respect and attention, perhaps even funding, given to dancing as a ‘proper’ sport would also benefit children and communities. Dancing, like music, has positive effects on development, learning, emotion and creativity, and cooperation, as well as physical wellbeing.

And if anyone has seen Take the Lead or the Step Up films they will know that dancing can solve the problems of class and cultural divides – if only it was taken as a serious sport and given a chance in the Olympic world, it could (and would!) do wonders.  

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