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Is Ballet A Sport? Doctors And Dancers Think So

Some people might not see a connection between ballet and football, but a sports medicine doctor at University Hospitals knows just how similar dancers and football players are.

In fact, Dr. James Voos, chair of UH's orthopedics department, says treating dancers as athletes can help prevent injuries and lengthen dancers’ careers.

“Contact athletes such as football players and our performing artists such as ballet dancers put an incredible force on their body, day in and day out,” Voos said. “While you may be moving more gracefully in ballet, those stresses on the body are very significant, so the ability to maintain flexibility, to put together a preventative program, is just as important in both sports.”

This season is the first year the Cleveland Ballet is partnering with the sports medicine department at UH, giving the dancers more opportunities to receive preventive care. And the partnership means Voos and physical therapists are treating both the Cleveland Ballet and the Cleveland Browns.

Dancer Madison Campbell says taking care of their bodies is one of the most important things about ballet.

“Our bodies are our instrument. Those are our tools. That’s the same as football players, they’re using their bodies as an instrument, as a tool, to get to where they need to be in the game,” Campbell said. “The amount of stress you put on your body, day in and day out, the amount of agility and stamina… if that’s not an athlete, I don’t know what you call it.”

The physical therapists working with the dancers know how to treat the artists as the athletes they are, says 16-year-old Marla Minadeo, the youngest dancer in the Cleveland Ballet’s history.

“I’m so young, but obviously if I’ve been dancing professionally, like I’m dancing all day, every day, my body doesn’t feel young,” Minadeo said. “I think that if I keep on going to physical therapy, the life of my dance career will be a lot longer.”

It’s Minadeo’s first season as a professional dancer. Her mom, Gladisa Guadalupe, is the artistic director for the Cleveland Ballet. An injury sent Guadalupe into retirement as a dancer, which she thinks could have been prevented.

“The career of a dancer is very short. But if you take care of your body now, in a professional environment and with professionals in the medical field that understand the wear and tear, and how to prevent it, they could have careers up to 45 and 50 [years old], why not?” Guadalupe said. “And that’s what we want. We want to give them tools that they understand their limitations, they understand their assets, they understand how far they can go with their bodies.”

Proper training and physical therapy help professional dancers like Minadeo, but treating dancers as athletes is also important information for young dancers and parents.

“This is particularly close to me, having young dancers at home,” Voos said.

He recommends flexibility and strength training for dancers between practices.

Audiences often don’t recognize the athleticism of dance because the dancers try to hide it, said dancer Lauren Stenroos said.

“Our job is to make it look easy on stage, and we’re not supposed to show that it’s difficult,” she said.

Guadalupe hopes that in the future, audiences will recognize that while it takes months to rehearse for a production, but it takes decades for dancers to train their bodies for ballet.

“I don’t think people understand. They just see the beauty. The curtain goes up, and they just see the end product. They don’t see the sweat and the hard work,” she said. “And that’s my hope, that as much as I would like the audience to enjoy – which they do – enjoy the performance that they understand what this artist goes through and respect the profession.”

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158