At first glance, this seems like a misnomer—dancers are athletes. But a different kind of athlete, for sure. Dance forms such as classical ballet and jazz require much more than athletic prowess. Artistry, or creative skill and ability, is a key factor that sets dancers apart from the typical athlete. Consider 3 major differences between dancers and athletes that illustrate this feature.

1. Dance focuses on artistry.

Dance requires intense physical effort, no doubt. However, dancers are not merely technicians who perform a series of tricks. Throughout their training and subsequent professional career, they must work to cultivate their unique personality as a dancer. This is not, however, an invitation to display overly flowery gestures, or to develop a prima donna attitude. When preparing to perform a particular role, they must draw from their personal experience and passion for the story to create a rich, 3-dimensional character. When combined with their extreme athletic ability, each dancer’s artistry not only brings depth to the story, but as a result, helps them connect with the audience.

2. Music plays a specific role.

While it’s true that women’s gymnastics uses music for certain routines, the goals of a dancer and a gymnast differ. Gymnasts employ music to add flair to what would otherwise be a strictly mechanical series of tumbling passes. Dancers, however, use music to convey emotion and to narrate a story. George Balanchine, the greatest choreographer of the 20th century, believed in the power of music to such a great degree that most of the ballets he created didn’t even have a discernible plot or story-line. While music definitely provides rhythm to sports like gymnastics, it’s the lifeblood of a dancer, contributing greatly to their artistic development.

3. Dance affects the body differently.

The one variable that dancers and other athletes unquestionably share is amazing bodies. However, each activity affects the body differently since they target certain muscle groups more than others, respectively. For instance, sports like gymnastics, rock climbing, and swimming require serious upper body strength, resulting in pronounced, often overworked, biceps, triceps, and pectoral muscles. These types of athletes tend to be more muscularly dense, even stocky. Dance alignment and technique, particularly ballet, on the other hand, helps to elongate the muscles, creating leaner, longer lines. Though ballet dancers do not typically focus on developing upper body strength, their precise footwork and lower body strength is unmatched.

These are a few major components that set dancers aside from other athletes. While physical strength is a definite prerequisite for both, artistry is the secret ingredient that adorns and enriches a dancer.

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