It always struck me as somewhat odd that Quiz Bowl was considered a varsity sport at my high school, as I imagine was the case in many others. The same was true of Debate, Forensics, and a host of other extracurricular activities that don’t have corresponding Olympic events. All arguments about breaking a sweat aside, the intriguing point remains that mainstream sports are not the only avenue by which one can be called an athlete. While I don’t consider myself what one might call “buff” — honestly, “semi–muscular” would be a stretch in its own right — I can at least take some comfort in knowing that not everything I do is so hopelessly lazy that ambient calories are absorbed from the environment. “Like what?”, you say? Well, I’m glad you hypothetically asked.
Anyone out there who’s done archery before recognizes that, even for a sport that generally is done standing still, the exercise attained is significant enough to merit the invention of a home exercise machine based on it. Holding a bow level with one hand and drawing it with the other strengthens the arm and back. More than that, depending on the group with which you do archery (“arch”?), shooting blunted combat arrows at one another in an activity resembling medieval Patrol is not unheard-of. I suspect I’m not the only one feeling more than a little envious.
If archery is the Middle Ages buff’s strength training, then fencing is their cardiovascular workout. I only took fencing for one quarter, but ask any 9-year-old (or a Random Hall resident), and you’ll know that it takes much less time than that with a sword or sword–like object to get someone off their feet, running around, having a blast, and making the “clang” and/or “bzzzhhh” sound effects of their choice. The precision footwork and chess-like strategy involved take somewhat longer to develop, but when you consider the training necessary to develop the same skills in boxing or soccer, that’s hardly surprising.
I’m going to say right now that I have no intention of getting my Pirate’s License. As someone with no buoyancy to support passing the boating test and a predisposition for archery over pistol, the closest I’ll probably ever get is Upper-Crust Innocent Bystander Permit. Nonetheless, I plan on making the most of it, and I wouldn’t be living up to my upper-crust duty to be ripe for the pillaging if I didn’t know how to ballroom dance — it’s just as athletic as fencing and archery, but not quite as violent.
In most social dancing situations, there’s almost always at least one person who oversteps the safe limits of their dancing ability, but one of the nice things about ballroom dancing is the greatly diminished potential for painful-to-watch exercises in self-overexpression. The professionals are skilled enough to know what they’re doing, and we amateurs are too focused on our steps, posture, frame, rhythm, smell, and platonic hand position to entertain any ambitious notions of spontaneity. The relationship between the football skill set and the ballet skill set is well-documented, in dime-a-dozen family films if nowhere else, and it seems self-evident that ballroom dancing skills translate to sports excellence. That probably doesn’t mean that I could tango my way to the World Series, but at least I can take some comfort in believing that knowing the difference between a promenade and a do-si-do (one’s a dance step, one’s a cookie) could save me time at the gym somehow.
I think I’ve made my point, and illustrated to myself that I don’t need to set foot in a gym anytime soon, ever. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go ice down my shoulders. Apparently, in the absence of a gym membership, there’s always theater. You might get the chance to swordfight, you’ll probably get the chance to dance, but, if nothing else, you’re guaranteed to have the chance to haul setpieces and angle iron. Now there’s a workout.