Superhumans (or not)

 

You may not know this, but I'm a HUGE cycling fan.  So the news of Lance Armstrong's alleged use of performance enhancing drugs on 60 minutes last Sunday was a disappointment, if not a shock, and a horrible reminder that these figures that we put on pedestals have not always achieved superhuman feats of athleticism through good training, hard work, and a little luck.  It now appears that in the mid-to-late-nineties cyclists were achieving success through good training, hard work, a little luck, and performance enhancing drugs.

 

While it's easy to be sad and angry about this story (and even easier to disregard it due to the notoriety and philanthropy of a true American legend), it's not beyond the realm of understanding…. but let me explain:

 

If Lance Armstrong, and, for that matter his whole team or the whole of the peleton of riders, participated in these practices, it is because the cycling world had created a sense of normalcy about it.  The riders who weren't doping were being dropped from the race, dropped from tours, and dropped from their teams because they simply could not keep up.

 

I'm bringing this up here because I think it's a suitable metaphor for dancers.  Many dancers put their personal health and safety at risk to be thin enough, flexible enough, etc. to get into a company or get a part that they want, to seek approval from directors and critics, or, to simply keep up with all the other dancers out there.

 

While cycling claims to have cleaned up its act since the era of Lance Armstrong, this whole debacle makes me deeply skeptical of professional sports and the image they portray.  The media and the organizations that govern professional sports create impossible situations that humans are not supposed to be able to achieve and while I'd like to believe that anything is possible through good training, hard work, and a little luck, I'm not convinced that this mantra works past a certain point.  At what point do we come to the realization that "superhumans" are, more often than not, just humans who have compromised their health, their sport, and their morality to get ahead?  It's going to take a group effort to say, "enough is enough" so we all, participant and spectator alike, can enjoy the thrill of athleticism by REAL people.

 

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance critic, contributing to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine. She is senior editor of See Chicago Dance. Lauren covers dance across the Midwest and writes regularly for Dance Magazine and Pointe with additional bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, St. Louis Magazine and Dance Teacher. Forthcoming publications include essays on ballet training in Chicago (University of Illinois Press) and Shirley Mordine (University of Akron Press). In 2020, Lauren published an opinion piece on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts in the South African journal Agenda. Lauren holds degrees in dance and kinesiology and has presented research on dance training practices at the National Dance Education Organization and the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. She has co-facilitated critical dance writing intensives in Chicago and Durban, South Africa, and participated in writing residencies at the National Center for Choreography, Bates Dance Festival and JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. Lauren teaches dance history and kinesiology for dancers, with part-time appointments at Loyola University Chicago and Illinois Wesleyan University.