Want to see great dancing? Watch the World Cup!

If you haven’t been watching the World Cup recently, you have been missing out on some amazing dancing. That’s right, dancing. And no, I’m not talking about the celebratory impromptu dances done in front of the cameras by ecstatic players right after scoring a goal (though those are usually pretty great, too). I am talking about the remarkable physical movements that happen on the field during actual game play. Some may call it athleticism, but I see it as some of the most technical dancing out there. Think about it as you watch the video below, then I’ll continue my explanation.

When you look closely at these soccer games, you’ll see that it’s all there – footwork, leaps, spins, extensions, balance, power, control. You just can’t miss all of these key components of dance displayed right there on the soccer field. Let’s start with footwork. When watching the U.S. vs. Ghana match, I could not help but be mesmerized by the amazingly fast but precise footwork of Ghana’s players. The way they toyed with the ball back and forth between their feet or precisely threaded their extremities between the legs of opponents to cause a turnover was just perfection, as impressive as Savion Glover himself. Then there are the leaps. Whether jumping up to head the ball, thrusting the chest forward to stop the ball, or flipping backward in order to kick it into the goal, these guys are quite adept at catching air. I’m sure many male dancers wish they had the same spring in their legs. And what is dancing, or soccer, without spins. Of course there are countless pivots and spins on the ground during play, but the other day during the Brazil/Chile match, I actually saw one of the Chileans do a header that ended with a full tour en l’aire, or full rotation in the air before landing. The commentators didn’t seem to notice, but I certainly did. Then, a favorite in all forms, are the extensions. Boy do these guys know how to kick their legs! They may not be the Rockettes, but no matter where the ball is in space, they will find a way to get their foot or knee to meet it. Last are balance, power, and control, which I think are pretty self-explanatory and obvious qualities found in good soccer players. And this was just my short list! There are so many other parallels to dance forms that could be noted on the fields of South Africa.

I will admit that there is also a lot of running in soccer, which is seemingly not dancing, but I have three things to say about this. One, if you know post-modern dance, or dance since the 1960’s, then you know that “pedestrian” movements are no stranger to the artistic form. Two, running of course is still a physical movement, which requires a special amount of control and agility in soccer, along with speed and stamina. So I think the case can be made for running to be considered just another movement within the dance canon. And three, while there is a lot of running in World Cup matches, there is also a lot of non-running. I am continuously amazed at the amount of full-body movement these soccer players do. Since they can’t use their hands, they are constantly shifting, twisting, and thrusting themselves to use every other body part to their advantage. And you may not really appreciate it until the cameras do a close-up slow motion replay. But when they do show players again in slow motion, you will see the variety of muscles at work, the way each body part is moving or reacting in its own way, and the crazy overall shapes that their bodies get into. If the constant motion of bodies on the soccer field to manipulate and maneuver the ball every which way is not considered dancing, then I don’t know what is. Moreover, it’s not just intermediate level dancing. In my mind, the World Cup level of play has the physicality and technical prowess to match the best principal dancers to grace the stages of Lincoln Center or perhaps the best Lindy Hoppers to have graced the Savoy Ballroom.

So, if you haven’t watched any of the World Cup yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. There are still plenty of matches left, and the rest promise to be good considering the tournament is into the quarter-finals, with only the top 8 teams remaining. So turn on the tube or load it up on your laptop, and check out the action for yourself. You’ll be sure to watch some great soccer AND see some great dance.

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