Athlete. Ballerina. Copeland.
Google “define: athlete” and you get a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise.
Miriam Webster says an athlete is a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength.
So why, as a society, do we insist on classifying dancers as something other than athletes? They are proficient in a form of physical exercise that requires physical skill and strength. Like every other professional athlete, dancers train, they cross-train, they practice non-stop. Like any team player, they work together. They are also graceful, and they have musicality. Like any high-level athlete, dancers must perform under pressure, and they compete for their right to perform. Dancers must stay focused, take care of their bodies, and watch others in their sport to learn from them.
If they didn’t do any of that – if they miss even one – amazing dances like these can’t happen:
We wouldn’t ever get to see the amazing partner work that a dance like this requires. To successfully complete even one lift, the man must have strength in his arms and his core. He must be centered and concentrate on balance. To complete this many in a row, he’s basically superman. But the girl, well whatever. She has no core strength, no arm strength. I mean, anyone could hold their arms out perpendicular to the floor for 1:30 no problem! Go ahead, try it.
We wouldn’t ever get to see the phenomenal choreography in this dance. When we’re performing, we want to be doing the same thing as everybody else. So to be able to intentionally mess up, well that takes a lot of focus, a lot of rehearsal, and a lot of courage. Because there will always be that one person that thinks these girls just don’t know what they’re doing.
So why do we insist on defining athlete without including dancer?
Under Armour began a new campaign today, aimed at expanding their women’s lines. The campaign, entitled “I WILL WHAT I WANT,” features five female athletes, who each have a video about their physical and emotional strength.
UA.com describes the campaign as “a celebration of who you are. As an athlete. As a woman.”
Misty Copeland is the main spokeswoman for this campaign, and she got a lot of press today. Huffington Post described her video as “significant for a number of reasons, namely for marking a major marketing shift for a brand whose image has been traditionally masculine.” Okay, we’re emphasizing Misty’s feminism. I can get behind that.
ESPN also had an article today about the Misty video, which included a quote by Misty herself: “One of [Under Armour’s] visions was to have me being seen as not just a ballerina, but the athlete that I am.” Oh, did I not mention that Misty Copeland is a ballerina? Did you not kinda gather that from the first portion of this post? Let me explain:
Misty Copeland is amazing. She didn’t start ballet until age 13 (most professional – and non-professional ballerinas start before age 5). She is only the second black soloist in the history of the American Ballet Theater. She is beautiful.
So what is my problem, right? Well….this:
“the athletic apparel brand has a new commercial starring a nonathlete.” – The New York Times.
I just talked about this. I just showed you how incredibly talented Misty Copeland is, how incredibly talented all professional dancers are. Under Armour, which markets athletic clothes, picked five female athletes out of all the female athletes in the entire country for this campaign. A spectacular surfer, an amazing soccer star, an international tennis player,, an Olympic skier, a beautiful ballerina. Five athletes. And then the New York Times – THE NEW YORK TIMES – comes out and calls her a “nonathlete.”
And then they quoted Leanne Fremar, Under Armour’s executive creative director of the women’s division. She said “Misty is a ballerina, she’s not a competitive athlete, but she brings a modern athleticism to a very traditional art form, and she pushes the boundaries on the status quo of the word ‘athlete.'”
So first, the New York Times used sloppy journalism, falsely portraying Misty as a nonathlete. When I read that quote above, I don’t read, “Misty is almost – but not quite – an athlete.” I read it as “Misty is an athlete, even if we don’t always see her that way because she isn’t competing.” Which, actually, is false. Misty is a soloist. She wants to be a principal ballerina for ABT, as does every other soloist. There has never, in the history of ABT, been a black principal ballerina. In fact, I think Lauren Anderson is the only African American ballerina in history to become principal at a significant company, at the relatively small Houston Ballet.
Misty is a competitive athlete. Just like a soccer player competes for a position on the starting roster, Misty is competing for her dream.
Under Armour isn’t exactly fighting the stereotype here with their terminology, although I certainly commend them for bringing a ballerina into this group of five elite athletes. Now I just wish the New York Times would correct themselves, and stop reinforcing the false conception of ballerinas as beautiful but weak. Misty Copeland proves that herself: