Dance dance revolution: Mac Dance's road to athletic recognition

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Exploring the implications of viewing dance as a sport versus an art for McMaster Athletics and Recreation

The recognition dancers receive in the sporting community is contested both organizationally and from the perspective of the general public. Some may view dance as solely an art or form of entertainment. Others might not associate dance with the physical demands sports such as football or basketball demonstrate.  

Members on McMaster’s competitive and recreational dance teams often get overlooked in favour of other university athletes.  These struggles can be summarized by their classification as a club as opposed to a varsity team under McMaster's athletics and recreation department.  

Maddy Arnott, president of the McMaster competitive dance team, acknowledged the artistic components of dance but she also underscored dance’s athletic intensity. 

“We encourage all of our dancers and choreographers to be really creative and express your feelings. . . but to an extent, we are very athletic individuals. We train lots during the week and train at a varsity level to an extent, so it definitely has a physical and sport component to it,” explained Arnott.  

"We train lots during the week and train at a varsity level to an extent, so it definitely has a physical and sport component to it."

Maddy Arnott, president of the McMaster Competitive Dance Team

Per Arnott, members of the McMaster competitive dance team are expected to undergo at least six hours of training a week, including a one-hour intensive group conditioning class. Dancers also have the option to sign-up and participate in extra dances, which can add up to double this mandatory time. 

In preparation for their three competitions in March and end-of-year show in April, extra weekend practices and dress rehearsals contribute an additional layer of responsibility for members.  

Even with the difficulty and commitment required by members, neither the McMaster recreational nor the competitive dance team are officially considered varsity teams by the university.  

“As a community, it can also be difficult not to have other sports communities or things like that regard you as unathletic or high intensity. . . I do think that it definitely can be discouraging not to have other people view you as an athlete when you do put in that high level of training,” said Arnott.  

"As a community, it can also be difficult not to have other sports communities or things like that regard you as unathletic or high intensity. . ."

Maddy Arnott, president of the McMaster Competitive Dance Team

This lack of recognition has significant implications not only for dancers and their identities but also their finances.  

The Athletics section on McMaster’s impact donation page allows patrons the opportunity to provide merit-based athletic financial awards for athletes across multiple different sports. Donors may provide one-time or perpetual gifts to various sporting team funds laid out on the website. Neither the McMaster Recreational Dance nor the Mcmaster Competitive Dance Team are among those listed. 

According to the McMaster Athletics Eligibility page for student athletes, dance is not officially recognized as either a U Sport or Ontario University Athletics sport. Accordingly, scholarships and financial support for athletes provided by the university are also only offered at the discretion of U Sports and OUA policies.  

Within both the OUA model outlining G1, G2 and G3 sports, as well as the Sports Model Framework developed by U Sports, dance fails to match their criteria to be considered a recognized sport.   

Currently, both teams primarily raise money through student-led fundraising events to cover their costs. Last year the team organized a Christmas bake sale, a Fun Run, and a sticker sale in support of both Mac Dance and the McMaster Children's Hospital Foundation. 

The lack of sponsorship or external backers furthers the funding gap between dance and other McMaster Athletics and Recreation sports. This lack of financial support results in increased payment fees for expenditures such as costumes, competitions and transportation. Alongside impacts to their personal identity, these financial burdens on dancers make their recognition as athletes a critical topic of discussion. 

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