Ballet dancers…..

I went to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden yesterday to see the Royal Ballet dance Prokoviev’s “Romeo and Juliet”. I must have seen this production 5-6 times and I never tire of it (I’m such a “culture-vulture”!)
I always admire the grace, poise and artistry of the dancers, but on the train home I got thinking I reckon a male ballet dancer would make a pretty good lightweight rower, so I thought I’d write a little blog about it.

“Rubbish” I hear you cry….but not so fast, here’s my reasoning;

Ballet dancers (male and female) are outrageously fit, their training routine would make many Olympic athletes quiver. For the male dancers they are also extremely strong, the lifts they have to perform are by no means easy (although part of their art is to make it appear so, and it requires great technique). So, they are fit and they are strong, but it goes further than that. For me what would make a male dancer a good rower is the ability to learn specific movements and in-grain that in their muscle memory. Dancers have an incredible awareness of what their body is doing. I reckon if you taught a dancer the “perfect” sculling stroke they would have no problem in repeating it time after time after time. A dancer, obviously, also has exceptional balance and poise.
I would love to take a couple of top male dancers from the Royal Ballet, guys like Steven McRae
and Edward Watson
Stick them in a double scull with intensive coaching from the likes of Robin Williams and I reckon within 2-3 months they could get to a damn good standard. My only concern is that they would be too worried about it looking”right” rather than fast!
So, if ballet dancers would make good rowers is the reverse true…..hmmm….in a word…no! But I do think that rowers would benefit from doing some ballet training. The flexibility and balance of a dancer could only be of benefit to rowers (plus I would pay to see the likes of Reed, Hodge, Sbihi put through their paces at the barre 🙂 ). Pity it’ll never happen….


4 thoughts on “Ballet dancers…..

  1. Göran R Buckhorn

    Daniel, I totally agree with you on this. As a matter of fact, it reminds me of something that happened more than 30 years ago at my Swedish rowing club, Malmö Roddklubb. Suddenly one day our coach told us that he thought it would be a good idea for us all to take lesson in ‘jazz ballet’ (so not classic ballet, though). We all stared at him thinking that he had lost his mind, or at least, was drunk, or something… Some of us – not I – took some jazz ballet lesson and then it all faded away; we were all back doing all the training on the water, on the erg, lifting weights, and all the other traditional things to be good oarsmen. All of us, except one – one of my best friends at the club kept on taking lessons (come to think of it, he might have even started taking lessons before our coach ‘dropped the bomb’ on the rest of us). My friend was tall and had the muscles all in the right places, and he was already a very good technical sculler, but after taking lessons in jazz ballet, he really turned into the most gracious sculler I have ever seen, knowing exactly how to handle his body in the boat and keep his balance in the single scull. And, not to forget, a very successful sculler. The sad thing, from our rowing club’s point of view, was that my friend quit rowing to more seriously go in for jazz ballet. But, yes, you are right, Daniel, ballet could do wonders for today’s rowers…

  2. Andy

    I coached a ballet dancer for a term in an Oxford college crew. He would have been an excellent lightweight – fantastic balance skills and strength- he could do one-legged squats like nobody else. Sadly he was only doing it as a social college kind of thing.

  3. Tim Martin

    As a former sculler and dancer, I can absolutely attest to the truth of your idea. Especially with ballet training, symmetry is key, so there would be less time spent learning how to keep the boat level, even at the precarious catch.
    The only place the idea might fall short is with regard to aerobic capacity. Often you’ll see dancers sitting around the lounge smoking, which isn’t great!
    A pas de deux will leave you gasping for breath. Edward Villella, who boxed before dancing, famously said these ballet duets will leave you as winded as 3 rounds of boxing. I actually did a little boxing, too, but I don’t think any of it is quite as grueling as sculling for 2000 meters against tough opponents.

  4. Olivia M

    Former ballet dancer and current rower here as well – I totally agree! It is actually a fairly natural crossover sport; ballet requires tons of focus on individual technique (strength, balance, body positioning, body awareness, and very importantly, rhythm) as well as fitting in with a “team” for group performances. It is also quite similar in that neither rowing or ballet require direct reaction to your competition – both are very much dependent on executing your own performance well. Two of us Canadians who trained for U23 WRC this summer both came from a background of 13 years of classical ballet before switching to rowing. We also have both spent a lot of time in stroke of varsity/provincial crew boats so I really think there is something to the training that ballet provides that is a great precedent for technically sound rowers.


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