Dance and Football
Passion in the legs

World Cup in Brazil 2014
World Cup in Brazil 2014 | Photo (detail): picture alliance | Augenklick/firo Sportphoto

Whether in the arena or on stage – applause is a sure thing. Football and dance both offer great theatre and have more in common than one might think.

Footballers dribble the ball with their toe-caps through the phalanx of their opponents. Ballerinas tiptoe through the rows of the Corps de Ballet in La Sylphide or Giselle. Football and dance both present a spectacular show. But “football teams and classical ballet companies can only be good if the team spirit is thriving,” says Marcia Haydée. At the same time, however, these teams also excel due to their stars. The Brazilian dancer and ballet director recalls Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer as “footballers with the soul of a dancer”. The world-wide fame of the Stuttgarter Ballett would be inconceivable without Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun or London’s Royal Ballet without Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.

To the manner born

Footballers and dancers share the passion for their respective professions – and also the physical hazards of injury-prone, high-performance athletes with a short career. But what turns fast-paced, muscle-bound athletes into body artists? “A talent they are born with!” is the conviction of Antoinette Laurent, ballet mistress with Martin Schläpfer at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf. Prodigies such as Mario Götze from football club FC Bayern München dazzle spectators as they streak across the pitch with the ball. Paul Calderone from the Ballett am Rhein evokes in slow-motion poses the transcendent aura of Nureyev. The elegance and power of a Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Neymar is comparable to the technical brilliance and charisma of a Marlúcia do Amaral from the Ballett am Rhein - or Louise Lecavalier.

The Franco-Canadian still whirls at an amazing speed across the dance floor. Her choreography So Blue with which the dancer, born in 1958, is currently on a world tour, begins with an exercise well-known from football training: the swift change from one foot to the other by a swivel of the hips along the edge of the pitch trains balance and suppleness. Performing this, Lecavalier’s feet are as nimble as Lang Lang’s fingers on the piano keys in a Chopin cascade.Despite the similarity of the daily, quasi-military drill on the pitch as in the ballet hall, it is the differences that prevail. “Football thinks in terms of a sports competition and creates emotions by arousing the masses,” says Tobias Ehinger, manager of the Ballett Dortmund. “In contrast, dance is art that wishes to move people.” Art in football, he goes on to say, shows itself in creativity and feeling for the ball. The ex-dancer is a member of the theatre’s football team; in fact, many German theatres now have their own football team.

Millionaires and struggling artists

Professional footballers are entrepreneurs with million-dollar salaries and up to 80,000 singing or bawling fans. When they stand up, waving flags, in groups sporting the club’s colours, to perform a Mexican wave, TV reporters rave: “What fantastic choreography!”

In contrast, many badly paid dancers struggle to make ends meet. They may well feel envious. “We should be able to share all that money and the spectators,” says the American “queen of pirouettes” Joyce Cuoco. In any case, stage dance certainly needs more promotion, claims Hagen’s Brazilian ballet director Ricardo Fernando. In his new choreography to the music of Darius Milhaud’s Saudades do Brazil a black and yellow balloon with the label of the football club Borussia Dortmund (BVB) filled with footballs drifts across images of Rio de Janeiro.

Ehinger’s envy, however, is definitely low-key. “Football functions according to different laws. Quite honestly, I think that a similar situation in dance would be the death of this creative art.” Meanwhile, the football club Werder Bremen has been a co-operation partner of the local theatre for some years now. The club Schalke 04 celebrated its centenary with a musical in Gelsenkirchen’s Musiktheater im Revier. Dortmund’s BVB followed suit with a revue in which a hip-hop group thrilled the audience. With their battles hip-hoppers are very close to the spirit of football competition. Every Year breakers from all over the world travel to Braunschweig for the Battle of the Year.

Of course, both football and dance are international. Ten Brazilians dance, for example, in the Bayerisches Staatsballett, while three Brazilians play for FC Bayern, one of them being the temperamental Dante with his famous Afro. For the footballers there is no champions’ party without samba! In Munich the Spanish trainer Pep Guardiola had a “Schuhplattler” perform his traditional Bavarian dance on the table to celebrate winning the double.

Moving with movement

While football makes do with a limited repertoire of movements, it is not only in dance theatre that movement nowadays extends far beyond the canon of the classical danse d’école. From everyday movements such as walking and doing somersaults, ballet also offers the whole range up to extreme acrobatics. Thus in Swan Lake Acrobatic Ballet from China the very best of circus artistry is celebrated with amazing aesthetics.

Dance sport is a rather slow starter, says Joyce Cuoco. But at least, for a long time now, great sport events are opened and closed with elaborately choreographed celebrations. For weeks on end 600 dancers from all age groups rehearsed a choreography by the Belgian Daphné Cornez for the opening of the World Championship in Brazil. Mass dances of this sort were already familiar to Mary Wigman.

Footballers are spurred on by fan songs. “Music does something to us!”, was a recent comment by a national striker. “Music is the basic partner of the dancer”, explains Tobias Ehinger. “Music defines time, rhythm, speed and is, at the same time, a source of inspiration and motivation.”

Anyone who doesn’t care for football is always welcome in the theatre, says Antoinette Laurent.