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'Athletes are beautiful artists': Kansas City Ballet challenges San Francisco Ballet to dance off

Kansas City Ballet social media challenge
Posted at 6:31 PM, Feb 09, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s not just any Red Friday in Kansas City, because today officially kicks off Super Bowl Sunday weekend.

And I knew that once I stumbled across this video the Kansas City Ballet posted last night (with 7,000 of views and counting as of the writing of this story), it was the perfect story to tell ahead of this special weekend.

Another story topic I’m particularly passionate about is performing arts.

I was a competitive gymnast for 13 years, so finding ways to highlight athleticism and artistry truly fills my cup.

And okay – while we can all agree the ballet is beautiful, I think athleticism is an understatement.

So before the Chiefs and the 49ers face off on Sunday, each city’s ballet companies are battling online.

The Kansas City Ballet posted the video to challenge the San Francisco Ballet to a dance off. Like anyone would be, I was amazed after watching.

Thanks to a platform like the Super Bowl, we see how athletes and artists share a stage. Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce are the prime example of these worlds colliding.

The Kansas City Ballet is embodying this too.

“We make it look super easy, but it is very difficult,” said Devon Carney, artistic director Devon Carney at the KC Ballet. “The stamina to be able to do the kind of work that dancers do, they don’t just sprint, they do things that are three to four minutes long so it’s not a single play like in a football game.”

To be clear, ballet is not easy.

Carney said his dancers are practicing up to seven and-a-half hours a day, five to six days a week. That’s more than a full-time job

But the hard work sure shows, and my jaw dropped multiple times today during the hour I sat in on a Kansas City ballet rehearsal.

“You can get up to pretty much about one and a half tons of lifting of people over your head in a single day,” he said.

It’s exactly why Carney sees the similarities between his team and the Chiefs, and equally admires both.

“I think it was just the last game I saw that Travis dove flat sideways to get a catch,” Carney said. “If you would have frozen it at the exact moment like I did that, he was diving sideways; the line and the form was just incredible.”

Yeah, we were all a little starstruck watching Travis during the AFC Championship.

Dancers like Paul Zusi dream of recreating football's recent rise in ratings thanks to Taylor and Travis, too. It’s a popularity surge based on blending artistry and athleticism.

“The hunger in me personally is to keep bringing more and more people — to keep spreading the beauty here, and the artistry, and athleticism — to more and more people in the world,” Zusi said.

Zusi grew up as a multi-sport athlete but resonated most with ballet. His ballet training was clear in all of his other sports, though.

“In basketball, I was jumping higher. I was jumping higher on the board, I was jumping higher on the rim,” he said. “In baseball, I was faster down the base paths, in soccer I could kick harder.”

The ballet competition did its job — showcasing the strength of their bodies and the creativity of their minds.

“The athleticism and the artistry are very much overlapping,” Carney said. “It’s just that you have to look for it and understand that it’s there.”

And it proves to everyone who ever accomplished or dreamed in either realm: athletes also exist, as artists.