Should performers consider themselves athletes? Simple on the surface but more complex when we delve into it.
Over the years, one thing has become very obvious when working with performers of all levels, and it is that the majority do not consider themselves as athletes. I suspect this is due to the artistic and performance framing and requirements of all they do, and the emphasis on its development through their formative years. I do agree that it is most certainly an art, however, I do also believe that performers are, more often than not, athletes and very high level athletes at that.
The word athlete brings all sorts of images to mind, big strong builds, competitiveness, testosterone filled environments and a world where strength and speed are immensely valued and worked upon exhaustively in the gym. Performers do not often see this in themselves, and aesthetically, not want to look like the athletes they imagine.
I think a reframing of what “athlete” means and looks like is in order for performers to give themselves the credit they deserve for their physicality, the demands of their jobs/roles, and also to help optimise their performance and reduce their chance of pain and/or injury. Ultimately the same systems and physical/biomechanical traits are usually stressed with performers and athletes. The ability to move quickly, fluidly, produce force into the ground to jump or change direction, land, pivot or put force into another performer to catch them, or divert their momentum during dance. Remove the competition element against an opponent that is seen in sports and almost everything is the same or incredibly similar.
So what are the benefits for performers to start thinking of themselves as athletes? I hear you ask. For the general performing population it is worth thinking about the movements you are doing during your performances and not looking at the finer performing details (I mean those that are considered the artistry). We’re more interested in how much force you need to apply to things. Things like the floor when jumping and landing, flipping, holding or stabilising a prop or another performer. Each of these things require a high level of strength, stability,and/or power. Then you have to repeat these things over and over again, requiring a good level of endurance/capacity to fight against fatigue. Theseare examples of how your athleticism is expressed in your performing environment, something you rarely give yourself credit for.
Things to consider for perspective, when you land from a 30 cm drop, there is 4 x your body weight going through your legs. Eg a 70kg person, 70 x 4 = 280kg of force required to decelerate your body. You do this, and so much more every day. This is where considered strengthening comes in very handy. By starting this kind of work you will increase your ability to absorb these forces, enabling you to absorb and produce more force, more repetitions, less fatigue and therefore improve practice to perfect your technical skills and choreography.
Hopefully this has stimulated your thoughts, try to look at what you are doing with this framing and it might surprise you just how much athletic demand your job places upon you.
Thanks for taking the time to read this