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Dance: The Most Physically Active Job in America

Published October 27, 2023

Dance: The Most Physically Active Job in America

by Steve Trounday

You see them on Facebook all the time. It’s those posts that list various points of interest such as the ten most popular cars, the twenty-five best pizza restaurants in the country, or the most affordable cities for retirement. For the most part, I ignore these posts but recently one caught my eye. It was titled, “The 27 most physically active jobs in America.” After clicking on the link, I was sent to an article in a website called, “Business Insider.” The website features just what you might expect - business information.

The authors of the article on the most physically active jobs in America, Erin Brodwin and Andy Kiersz, have concluded that dance is number one in the ranking and choreography is number fourteen. They determined the places by obtaining data from the Occupational Information Network - a U.S. Department of Labor database with comprehensive information on jobs. They looked at five types of physical activity: dynamic strength, explosive strength, time spent running or walking, stamina, and trunk strength.

According to the authors of the piece, a dancer’s top-rated activities are time spent running and walking, stamina, dynamic strength, and trunk strength.

That dance was the number one physical job shouldn’t have surprised me. Having spent many hours over the years watching A.V.A. Ballet Theatre’s corps de ballet at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, I have witnessed what the audience doesn’t see: the huffing and puffing of the dancers when they are in the wings. They get a minute or so break and then it’s back to the center stage and the arduous work of classical ballet.

Rounding out the top five of the most physically active jobs in American are fitness trainers and aerobics instructors at number two, structural iron and steel workers at number three, reinforcing iron and rebar workers at number four, and forest fire fighters at number five. Those four occupations look to be the toughest on Earth yet dancers beat them out. 

I broached the subject of dance activity with Eve Allen, a ballet professor at the University of Nevada Reno’s Department of Theatre and Dance. In addition to her work at the University, Eve has danced with A.V.A. Ballet Theatre in dozens of their various productions at the Pioneer Center. “Ballet is a mind, body, spirit form of athleticism,” Allen said. “Ballet dancers have a unique form of fitness that includes technical feats, creative expression, and emotions. These characteristics combined with the adrenaline that occurs when performing in front of a live audience make for an extreme amount of physical exertion, all the while maintaining an air of grace and ease.”

Allen pointed out that to perform at a professional level, dancers are required to continually rehearse and must be dedicated to health and fitness. “Dance is hard,” she said. She mused that a lot of people are probably surprised that dance is the number one physically active job in America. “The dancers just make it look too easy on the stage.”

At number fourteen in the ranking of most physically active jobs is choreographers. They are out ranked by construction carpenters at number thirteen and ahead of brick masons at number fifteen. The top three rated physical activities for choreographers according to Brodwin and Kiersz are stamina, trunk strength, and time running or walking. I visited with A.V.A. Ballet Theatre’s artistic director Alexander Van Alstyne to get his thoughts on the subject. He does all unique choreography for all of his ballets. He wasn’t surprised that dancers were number one in physical activity and that choreography is also ranked high. 

“When I choreograph a two-hour ballet,” said Van Alstyne, “I have to show the dancers every move they have to make. That means I’m making those rigorous dance moves. Even after the dancers have the choreography mastered, I make corrections that require me to show the movements over and over again.”

Van Alstyne cited several dance sections that are particularly difficult for both the choreographer, and of course, the dancers. Those include the Waltz of the Flowers in The Nutcracker and the fairy variations in Sleeping Beauty. In both ballets, the length of the pieces and precise movements make them physically demanding. In December, A.V.A. Ballet Theatre will be performing The Nutcracker with the Reno Phil. “The technically controlled moves in the Waltz of the Flowers are very challenging,” Van Alstyne said. “The dancers don’t come off en pointe for long periods of time.”

As I write this column, I reflected on the physical activity of a writer and marketing executive. There is no huffing and puffing for me. However, on a hot day I sometimes sweat when heading for the coffee maker.

Steve Trounday is a board member at A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, the resident ballet company of the Pioneer Center. They will be performing The Nutcracker December 15-17 at the Pioneer Center with the Reno Phil.

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