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Articles: Ballet Dancers or Swimmers

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Found this article and thought it might be of interest.


Who is More Fit?

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I think the point of the research got lost in the scientificblogging.com article quoted above. Here is the original source:



Trying to decide who is "more fit," as the blog post implies, would be like trying to decide whether Albert Einstein or Peter Drucker is smarter by giving them an IQ test. Obviously, swimmers will be able to swim laps faster than dancers, and dancers will be able to balance better on one leg --- and anyone who swims or dances every day, whether they're good at it or not, will score well on any fitness test. These researchers are thankfully (for UK taxpayers) trying to do something a little more specific than just comparing dancers and swimmers:


There is not just one version of fitness – different people and different sports are fit in different ways. This work compares people from different sports using standard fitness profile tests to show the similarities and differences. The idea of these fitness profiles is so that coaches, trainers and therapists can deliver exactly the right type of training and treatment, therefore enabling the sportsperson to achieve their very best performance.


I would expect that elite dancers would be a little bit more physical generalists than elite swimmers. Ballet is more multi-dimensional than just about any other athletic activity I know of, and that means that more different combinations of physical strength and weakness can do well in it. Compare to (say) running, in which the world's best runners are, by and large, all of a similar physical build.

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I've done lots of sports in my life, including taking up swimming about a year ago (I decided to start doing triathlons). I've never danced, leaving that for my DS, but I have spent a fair amount of time over the past few years around dancers, including some professionals. Sorry, swimmers (wait, that's me!), I am supremely impressed by the athleticism of dancers. I bet you could teach a ballet dancer swimming technique and they would be terrific. I would not bet you could teach swimmers to dance. (Why isn't there a swimmer smiley icon I could add here?)

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Great articles! But I would say it's Apples vs Oranges - both float, both spin, both are good! But there's always one sour orange and one bad apple. :(

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I feel dancers are more fit. I used to dance professionally. I have been swimming a mile every day for 20 some years. I can't dance anymore -(just teach) since I have bad arthritis in my knee. I am still fit enough to swim but not dance.

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I agree with what other people have said about it being comparing oranges to apples, I think both are very fit and both are better at different things, I would guess (although I might be wrong) that swimmers have stronger arms, and dancers have stronger legs, I think it would also depend on whether you were testing it on sprint swimmers or distance swimmers, because I think there would be a difference between the two.

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I couldn’t find anything like a report from any of the links. Yes, ballet vs. swimming fitness is an apples and oranges kind of comparisons, but I’ll go further and say the whole line of this research is absurd. Presumably the purpose of the comparisons was to collect data so that “coaches, trainers and therapists can deliver exactly the right type of training and treatment, therefore enabling the sportsperson to achieve their very best performance.” Let’s suppose you knew the exact physical and psychological factors that distinguish ballet dancers from swimmers. How does that inform you about the training or treatment of participants in either activity? We all know that training is specific, no matter what activity we are speaking of.

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I bet you could teach a ballet dancer swimming technique and they would be terrific. I would not bet you could teach swimmers to dance. (Why isn't there a swimmer smiley icon I could add here?)


Yes they can both learn each others techniques, but then so could a monkey :wink: I guess it depends on the level of technique acquired though.


What do you mean the ballet dancer would be terrific and the swimmer would not? Terrific as in take on an olympic swimmer and win? Or just be able to finish a race using any old technique? Because it it's the former, sorry what a load of codswaddle and if it's the last, then so to, could a swimmer finish a dance using any old technique. Comparing the two activities in this way is just impossible.


Interesting information as I have had quite a few conversations with two swimming coaches lately about connections between ballet and swimming.


I think what BowlderMan is saying is what happened to us...purely anecdotal, of course, but older DD is currently participating in a ballet SI (home school's) this summer while still swimming with our summer league team after being recruited by the coach for her exceptional ability to apply technique in swimming, particularly breaststroke. As of last summer, she was basically a nonswimmer, but the head coach had her competition ready within a week, saying he'd never had a swimmer pick up the mechanics so quickly. We talked frequently about the physical abilities that were similar (for example, flexible feet--I believe Clara76 posted a link at one point about the degree of ankle flexibility needed for ballet, but it actually came from a web page/site about swimming), and he was interested in learning how he could use what she knew in ballet to improve her stroke. It has been a very enlightening experience for all of us.


Obviously I am not posing any scientific conclusions, but I think that it's an interesting conversation.

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Yes, swimming and ballet do compliment each other very well (imho). I love swimming as an exercise to improve my dancing. The swimming really helps to stretch out all of the muscles and work the arms and shoulders. I always have a problem with tendinitis in my ankles when I go back to swimming long distances after being away from that. My freestyle kick is extremely loose and the repetition of the movement in the ankle always brings on tendinitis. Now that I am aware of the problem, I start slow with the distance in the freestyle stroke, and start my distance swimming in the other three strokes. I would think your DD's port de bra work would enable her to utilitze her arms and shoulders more effectively in the swimming. I would also think she would be able to really pull her legs out of her hips while swimming which would give her a more productive kick.

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One of the unsuual things about ballet is that, more than most other physical activities, it strives to train for an incredible versatility of movement. A swimmer will hone the movement involved in freestyle or breast stroke, optimizing it to gain that last little edge in a race. Day after day, the same stroke is repeated again and again, up and down the pool.


Dancers train very differently. Yes, we train our tendu the way swimmers train their breast stroke. But that's the beginning of the barre. In the center, we train to learn complex sequences of movements, and to reproduce them with decent fidelity in just a few minutes. If we have more time to work on a combination, as in the case of choreography, we get better at it. But the movements are much longer and more complex than a swimming stroke. They work because they're made up of simpler movements that are trained with much higher repetition (plie, tendu, etc).


Because of the emphasis on reproducing diverse movement quickly, one would expect that ballet dancers would be able to do at least an OK job at just about any movement in a short period of time. Learning the butterfly is not so different from learning some crazy new move that some choreographer wanted you to do last season. We can "fake" just about any movement pretty quickly. But understanding the subtleties involved --- and doing it WELL --- is just as hard as understanding the subtleties in plie. However, since dancers have studied human movement in a way most athletes never do, one would expect dancers will be able to master other kinds of movements faster than they would had they not had dance training.


So I would expect that ballet dancers could "fake" swimming a lot more convincingly than swimmers could "fake" an adagio, petitie allegro, grande allegro, etc. But I do not expect that the dancer would be competitive in the rankings without some serious training. And I would expect dancers would probably impress coaches over time in their ability to learn and apply technique quickly.


And none of this has much to do with the physical fitness being examined in the experiment. Ping pong players, race car drivers and golfers might not score much better than average on many tests of physical fitness. But they have highly trained the "neuro" part of their neuromuscular systems. Ballet dancers can approximate a wide range of movements for the same reason, because of the way ballet has trained the neural system, not the way it's trained the muscular system.

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