Olympic Lesson

Olympic Lesson

One could not but notice while watching the Olympics, and in particular the prime time coverage on the major network that carried the games that Dancesport might serve itself well to spend more time considering the Olympic spectator.  I am not sure how many different sports are included in the Olympic games.  Ten thousand plus athletes, seventeen full days of venues in various cities; most, it seems, indoors or at least in modern and mostly empty domes, some outdoors, a few natural venues, and even an original and ancient athletic field must add up to a lot of different sports.  The network liked just a few.  Presumably with the advice and consent of various focus groups, advertisers, and executives.  Gymnastics and diving, both platform and springboard seemed to dominate the evening’s showings.

Sure there was the occasional swimming or track and field medley, and even a relay or two.  There were even a few plain ordinary foot races of various lengths.  All combined these races that conclude by crossing the tape or touching the wall filled few of the hours and hours of evening primetime coverage.  One could surmise that the reason is that there are but a few such sports.  That however would not be true.  Many sports cross finish lines where the winner is evident and can be determined by a photo finish if necessary.  Sports with clear exact winners not requiring any subjective grading have long been declared preferable to artistic and subjective sports.  Pure athletic competition, fighting, sparring and competing man-to-man or lady-to-lady are considered somehow purer and less subject to the whims of a few judges.

The truth of the matter may well be elsewhere.  We are all fully aware or at least believe that networks spend big bucks to determine what an audience will like.  Advertisers demand that ratings and an image are strong before they will spend those multi-million dollar budgets geared for sports.  Sure it helps if the prominent logo can be easily displayed on footwear, body suits, and helmets.  Ultimately it is the visual appeal that draws audiences and the like.  Various studies have shown that people by and large process information through one or more of our senses, but inherently each person favors one sense over the others.  Furthermore it is apparent to those that deal in the ramifications of such studies that more Americans process information through the use of their visual perception than the other senses.  The addition of beach volleyball with its own sport governing body’s requirement of bikinis for all the girls can only prove my point.  Maybe their sport’s authority is hoping for tattoos to promote goods and services.

What is apparent is the value of eye appeal to an audience.  Not necessarily the prurient desire to watch only the beautiful people, but the inherent visual understanding of a basic of the sport.  Sitting with other people watching diving, it did not take long for those watching to be able to focus on the “splash”.  After a round or two, everyone in the room was able to determine a good dive from a regular cannon ball by the size or lack of splash left upon entering the water.  Hearing the announcers speak of angle of entry, bent legs, or even whether the knees were together or apart meant little to those that already determined that this splash was larger than the previous diver’s, and therefore merited nothing more than the “Glad You Came Award”.  Deep and involved discussion ensued as to whether the Chinese had a distinct and possible unfair advantage since most Americans assume that all Chinese are little people and therefore would not generate as large a splash as some over sized American.  This of course was dispelled when some Englishman or other European or American was able to enter the water without a splash, thus giving some due back to the Chinese, albeit begrudgingly.

Gymnastics, the other favored sport of the network was also reduced to it simplest question.  Did the athlete in question bounce or just teeter upon landing?  Almost everyone in the room could count to two, so it was easy for everyone to determine whether a major foul had occurred.  Breathtaking as the maneuvers on the various pieces of gymnastic equipment were, none of us understood anything about the difficulty factors, the number of judges, whether the top and bottom score were counted or not, or even why they had those little flags on the screen to show where the judges came from.  We could all easily determine if there was an extra hop, and if necessary whether this hop was bigger or worse than the previous athlete’s hop.  This skill would be needed in order to break a tie if everyone in the building hopped.  Luckily in most events there was only one or maybe two who stuck the landing (Olympic talk for not hopping).  With everyone else eliminated nobody cared which of the two the judges actually picked on merits that were not understood.  So we were free to watch the commercials and did not have to engage ourselves in any deep discussions.

What does this have to do with Dancesport you ask?  It may be easy, to understand, but maybe not so easy to fix.  First Dancesport should by all rights be a natural.  Inherently beautiful people performing an amazing sport involving speed, coordination, balance, timing, and team play, should be a natural for the Olympics.  Down sides include it being a coed sport.  Few sports I have noticed in the Olympics have teams comprised of both sexes.  Even though many sports are done by both sexes, few compete as mixed teams.  This may be a problem, but should be an asset in today’s politically correct world.  Ice-skating comes to mind, but some feel that similarity is a disadvantage not an advantage.

Harder yet is the audience’s ability to understand or “see” the winner.  If we could get everyone to agree on what are the most basic elements and requirements, then an audience might be able to see the sport as its current enthusiasts do.  In ice-skating if the lady wobbles after being thrown across the ice, we all can see the error, and we are smart like the judges.  Dancing needs to be able to define a few of those points so the audience can recognize them too.  More importantly they want ways to eliminate contestants.  That makes the audience feel smart too.  Failing to do so leaves all the interpretation to the judges, who may and probably are right, but leaves the audience apart and uninvolved.  We may have our favorites, but as visual preceptors need and want the ability to judge for ourselves.  So rather than having so many judges looking at different things that are important to each of them to various degrees, we might want to experiment to see if a common order of judging might be easier for an audience to understand.  Otherwise, we may wait a long time for audiences to develop loyalties and feelings to compel Dancesport’s inclusion into the games or to gather enough cooperation from various sport’s governing bodies and governments to make adding another sport palpable to an already crowded venue.

Michael S. Reichenbach


Dance Week

October 8, 2004


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