If you look only at the stereotypes, they couldn’t be more different. On the one hand, you have ballet: all otherworldly grace, satin ribbons, quivering tulle, starstruck little girls and refined patrons sipping champagne. On the other hand, you have Australian Rules footy: mud, meat pies, colliding muscle men and yobbos downing beer. Lovers of both, however, see more similarities than differences. So what do they share?
Sculpted muscles. Task-focused bodies. Intensive practice. Teams of dedicated health professionals looking after nutrition, injury prevention, training and recovery. A brief (though lengthening) physical peak often followed by teaching careers. At their elite levels, both ballet and football are focused around gifted individuals who turn a natural aptitude into a stellar career through years of sweaty grind and mental toughness. Perfectionists abound in both fields.
Ok, we won’t deny it: both ballet and football deliver plenty of eye-candy. But the thrill of watching both is far more intricate than that. When a dancer seems to bust the bounds of gravity to hang at the top of a leap, or a player turns in mid-air to find the goal posts with a near-mystical blind kick, the frisson is the same. You’re seeing bodies that seem to inhabit a different realm from yours, bodies that own the air and move like water. And in that moment, you can feel a little of what it’s like to have those skills.
A grassroots level
Lots of Aussies did either ballet or footy as kids (and hearteningly, there are starting to be more boys in dance studios and more girls on the field). That experience gives an appreciation of the craft and builds audiences. Ballet and footy are also activities that parents and their children often enjoy together.
The roar of the crowd
Both ballet and football attract legions of die-hard fans: ‘balletomanes’ and ‘footy fanatics’ form the core of audiences, keeping the love alive through donations and subscriptions/memberships. They are also instrumental in creating atmosphere. Live performances are all the more thrilling for that breathless hush as the curtain rises, that gasp for a sumptuous set or a triple tour en l’air, those storms of applause and bravos. And as any footy fan knows, there’s nothing like being in a thousands-strong crowd all yelling, chanting and groaning in unison.
Both a ballet company and a footy team have official (and unoffical, often audience-decided) ranks of prestige. For a company, it’s the traditional structure of corps, coryphées, soloists and principals. For a team, it’s first and second teams, but also levels of experience: rookie players, like novice dancers, look up to and lionise their seasoned elders. For fans, a part of the pleasure is spotting talent at the greenery level and watching it blossom into stardom.
There is one significant difference between ballet and football: ballet doesn’t have footy’s fierce team allegiances. Maybe that’s a thought. Who fancies seeing The Royal take on Paris Opéra in the inaugural Ballet World Cup?