Dance & Martial Arts; Not So Distant Cousins


It’s officially my favorite time of year– Dance Season! For those of you unaware, I’m an avid fan of So You Think You Can Dance. I literally never miss it. I’ve been to the live tours. I record it and save it for way longer than I should (until my DVR threatens to implode and I have to erase it). I watch Youtube videos of my favorite routines over and over (borrowing more than once from their acrobatic repertoire for my own choreography). And it is my favorite part of the summer, hands down. Can anyone say dorky Fangirl?

This week marked the first episode of Season 9’s actual competition. We’re past all the auditions, the talking, the dramatic tears, the blah blah blah. (I should probably note that I’m not really a fan of Reality TV, contrary to how it may sound.) Now we get down to the meat– the performances filled with spectacular tricks, beautiful choreography, strange concepts and engrossing musicality. This is the part I love. And this season brings an added level of excitement in the person of one Cole Horibe. This guy is my hero. Why? Because he’s proving on national television what I’ve been saying for years– that dance and martial arts are sister styles. Don’t believe me? Check out his LA audition below and see for yourself.

Pretty cool, wasn’t it? His blend of martial arts techniques fused with dance isn’t all that unusual though. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. He’s just the first to appear on a TV show and bring it to everyone’s attention. The idea of pairing martial arts routines with music is one that’s long been a staple of the martial arts world, in the form of Demo Teams. (I promise, I’ll give the full definition of these soon). But Cole brings it to the level that I myself prefer, and that few other martial arts studios currently employ. Namely, he utilizes musicality to its full potential, putting the art in martial arts, and bridging the gap between these similar styles of physicality to create a meaningful performance that entertains.

I’m not saying that martial arts and dance were developed similarly– they weren’t. The martial arts were intended to be just that– martial. They were developed as a disciplined regimen of lethal fighting techniques used to defend country, life and honor. Dance, on the other hand, is about self-expression. It’s always been an art form shaped by the era it was born in, the emotional context of the times and stylistic innovation meant to entertain both the dancers and the audience. And nothing illustrates that divide more than comparing the ideals of Ballroom dance with those of martial arts.

But while there are definite differences between these two motion-oriented sports, they are superficial in nature. Ok, some are ideological, but if you strip all that away and just look at the movement itself, you’ll see they’re actually very similar. At the heart of martial arts you have discipline, intense training, focus, hefty muscle memory, rhythm, flexibility, power, controlled movement, balance and a fine-tuned sense of body awareness. (Trust me, you never realize how much you can be aware of every ligament, tendon, muscle and skin surface until you train in something that utilizes all of it in minute detail). Breaking dance down to the same level, you have… guess what? Discipline, intense training, focus, hefty muscle memory, rhythm, flexibility, power, controlled movement, balance and a fine-tuned sense of body awareness. If you look closely, you’ll even notice visual similarities between several dance moves and their martial art counterparts because they rely on the same muscle groups and level of control to execute properly. The only thing dance tends to have over martial arts is the inclusion of creativity. But that doesn’t always have to be the case.

Cole Horibe’s routine is a prime example. No one can look at that and say it doesn’t illustrate creativity. Breaking outside of the expected curriculum is extremely hard for a lot of martial artists, though, and the idea that the traditional forms or techniques can be morphed to fit music is a foreign concept that has the traditionalists screaming “Corruption!” Tradition is fine. In fact, the traditional aspects of Tang Soo Do are what I enjoyed the most. But eventually, performing the same forms, techniques, self-defense moves, etc. can start to feel stale. Adding some theatrical elements, especially for demonstration purposes, gives your training something fresh, and challenges you in a way that repetition doesn’t. It would be like asking a writer to only write non-fiction, never experimenting with the use of language to create a new experience for their readers. Or telling an artist they can only paint the way Van Gogh, Picasso, or Monet did, but never find their own style. And what if musicians suddenly stopped creating new songs, new fusions of styles and sounds? The world would seem rather boring and static, right? So why do the martial arts have to be stuck so firmly in tradition that only the dedicated few with a high tolerance for boredom stick with it past a few years?

My argument for why musicality and creativity are so important to the growth of martial arts is a debate for another day. I’ll just leave you to consider this– how better to impress an audience of non-martial artists and martial artists alike, than to present them with something that blends concepts of entertainment– like music, costumes, story– with technical prowess? Apparently Nigel Lythgoe and the staff at So You Think You Can Dance felt it was an idea worth merit because they put Mr. Horibe through to the Top 20. I, for one, firmly believe that dance and martial arts complement each other, and that together they can create something beautifully inspired. So I intend to show my support for their decision, and vote for Cole every week in the hopes that the longer he stays on the program, the more martial artists he can inspire to think outside of tradition.

Coming Next Week: Demo Teams: A Brief Introduction– where I finally explain what exactly a demo team is and their purpose. Told you I’d explain it soon. 😉


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