Fitness and physical form unite dancers, athletes
Friday, February 17, 2017
IndyCar's James Hinchcliffe was one of three athletes to find success on the most recent season of "Dancing With the Stars."
(Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on sports and dancing. For part one, please click here.)
Strength, agility and muscle control are attributes of successful dancers, but those elements refer to athletes as well. The two pursuits have much in common, although sometimes that is not immediately obvious to the uninitiated.
To those trained in dance, the similarities can be profound.
"Dance is a physical art form," said Maria Royals, Dance Department Chair at George Washington Carver Center for the Arts and Technology. "All of the elements of dance apply to athletics: Body, energy, space, time and action."
In the previous article in this series, MultiBriefs explored the common ground between the two disciplines. That article also touched on tennis legend Serena Williams, who favored dancing in her off-season workouts. She’s not alone among major athletes to follow those steps. Football star Herschel Walker, while he was with the Dallas Cowboys, trained and performed with the Fort Worth Ballet.
Walker’s feat encouraged other athletes to discover the benefits of dance with the help of Michelle Heines, an instructor in Tyler, Texas. While teaching and studying for her master’s degree at Texas Christian University, Heines brought injured football players into her dance class as part of her research. They regained their strength, and that led to a career that combined Heines’ love of sports and dance, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
"Dance trains a human body from the inside out," Heines told the newspaper. "Dance promotes a deeper relationship between the athlete and their body."
Add competition, and athletes with even seemingly little dance experience can rise to the occasion. One of the most obvious examples of that comes in the popular TV show "Dancing With the Stars."
Through its 23-season run, 57 participants that can be classified as athletes have appeared on the show, with a run of success that illustrates Royals’ statement.
Of the 57 athletes on the show, nine have won the competition — and the coveted mirrored ball trophy that slightly resembles the Vince Lombardi Trophy awarded to the NFL’s Super Bowl champion each season. That run includes four consecutive winners from Seasons 3 through 6 and five in a six-season stretch.
The most recent season, No. 23, was won by an athlete, Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez, who in the finals outperformed two other athletes, race car driver James Hinchcliffe and former pro football player Calvin Johnson. To draw a reference to sports statistics, the nearly .400 winning percentage by the athletes on DWTS underscores a correlation between the two activities.
That’s not to say that athletic success always translates to the dance floor. In one seven-season stretch of the show, athletes were the first dancers eliminated six times, although in one instance, former Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill was forced to leave because of a previous injury.
Not all sports translate to dance, according to Royals, who was chosen the 2016 SHAPE America Dance Teacher of the Year.
"Horseback riding and excessive weight lifting are distinctly incompatible as these activities traditionally develop musculature that is counterintuitive to dancing," she said. "Swimming, all running sports, tennis, basketball, volleyball are all compatible as long as stretching is incorporated after the activity."
Royals cited gymnastics and ice skating as closely related to dancing. The TV competition seems to bear that out. Five of the nine athletes that have won had a background in gymnastics or skating.
She warned that mixing dancing and sports can sometimes lead to overdevelopment of large muscles like quads, hamstrings and the upper back and neck. "Dancing requires long, stretched muscles and if athletes do not stretch and lengthen muscles it can inhibit ability in dancing," Royals said.
For dancers and athletes, success starts with a healthy body.
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