What Makes A Sport A Sport?

Waacking and Double Dutch have long been considered “challenges” or “street games.” Where do they fit into the larger world of sports?

By Alexandra Cadet

Waacking is not a sport. 

Or at least, not really. Despite being physically taxing––and something that requires immense training to do well––waacking is rarely described as “sport-like.” It has spawned more than a few competitions. It has a storied history centered on finding freedom of expression. It’s even a technique used in an Olympics-winning ice dance routine. But look online and you won’t really find waacking being discussed as if it fits into the Cambridge Dictionary’s first definition of the word “sport.” So, not a sport––at least according to the general public. 

Princess Lockerooo. (Image by Amber Ink courtesy of Beautiful Now)

But should that mindset change? Waacking is often considered to be a type of dance, which is certainly a sport as well as an art form; ergo, waacking is a sport. But per waacking phenom Princess Lockerooo, waacking is like “singing with your body,” suggesting that it’s more akin to a performance piece. So, not a sport. 

Then again, through Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s aforementioned rhythm dance, waacking took center stage at the Olympics––indisputably the biggest platform for athletics. Sport. One could argue, however, that P/C’s waacking interpolation leaned on the “presentation-focused” aspect of ice dance (executing the required theme) rather than the “sport-focused” side (jumps, lifts, etc.). Not a sport. Perhaps an art. Or maybe both.

Waacking isn’t the only discipline for which the question “is it a sport?” has yet to be answered. Take Double Dutch, for example. It’s long been on the rise, becoming an official sport in the NYC school system in 2008 and rapidly expanding through the National Double Dutch League. Yet amongst the general public, Double Dutch is often reduced to its origins as a street game. Or in the younger generation’s case, “that thing from the jumping movie on Disney.” In different ways, Double Dutch and waacking both exist on this weird bubble between athletics and art, formalized and spontaneous, mainstream and grassroots. 

But you have to wonder why they’re stuck on that bubble at all. The disciplines are demanding on the body and entertaining from an audience’s perspective––arguably the two core tenets of modern sport. Double Dutch teams blend the tricking of acrobatics, the accuracy of stepping, and even the speed of sprint runners into their practices. The resulting performance, no matter the category, is nothing short of outstanding––and a little bit dizzying. Double Dutch is not just “for girls,” and it’s not just a silly street game. At its best, Double Dutch is no less worthy of being on the big screen than any basketball game. 

Waacking, of course, needs no introduction. By now, everyone has seen the iconic movements that waackers work hard to master at least once. “The arm movement looks like you’re fighting with your arms a little bit, but at the same time, [it’s] very elegant and delicate,” said dancer Axelle Munezero, who helped choreograph Papadakis and Cizeron’s rhythm dance. It requires plenty of training to get the moves right and to strike that delicate balance between grace and power. But is all that training rewarded with the type of acclaim given to sports like baseball or soccer? Not in the slightest.

Double Dutchers (Image courtesy of Julianna Lee Marino on Medium)

Why do these clearly athletic activities have such a hard road to the mainstream world of sports? At least some of it could be explained by implicit racism. “So often Black people are characterized as superhuman,” writes Stephanie Carter for Matter Mea. “From Toni Morrison’s flying Negro in Song Of Solomon to police officers characterizing unarmed victims as unstoppable, we are regularly seen—for better and for worse—as supernatural figures.” Double Dutch was molded by Black women and found life in hip-hop-oriented spaces. Waacking was born in West Coast gay clubs during the disco era, providing a safe space of creativity for LGBTQ+ people and people of color––including Black men. It stands to reason that we assume these disciplines are simply “games” and diminish the physical exertion that they require because non-white talents––especially “superhuman” Black people––are the driving force behind them.

And here’s the real kicker: we know of the serious lack of racial and gender diversity at the very top of major leagues. We know the horrifying stats on the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in sports. And we know about the racism fueling some modern-day sports coverage––not to mention the incredibly weak rationale for sexism against women’s sports leagues. Therefore, is it so far-fetched to suggest that there’s more than just a too-narrow dictionary definition at play here? That the base criteria for what makes a sport a sport is implicitly warped by toxic societal norms to keep out POC-, female-, and LGBTQ-led disciplines such as waacking and Double Dutch? That the achievements of those in these fields are significantly undervalued by outsiders because they dispel our unconscious bias that mainstream sports must be white, straight, and “manly?”

This isn’t to say that waacking and Double Dutch must strictly go by the “sport” moniker in the name of social justice. That decision is up to the people at the forefront of these disciplines. Plus, part of the beauty of the two fields is wrapped up in their collaborative and celebratory nature, and that spark could be snuffed out by the cutthroat nature of the modern-day sports model. But a greater conversation must be had regarding the race-, gender-, and identity-based way we see sports––and fail to see other “would-be” sports. It’s not an impossible ask; the same discussions have been happening with dance, which has started to receive the respect it deserves as a result. But until we unpack these issues even further, we will never truly know what makes a sport a sport––or if those distinctions even matter.

“Individuals can create a business or brand around what they do, but waacking itself can never be owned,” said Princess Lockerooo in an interview with Dance Mogul. “It belongs to those who created it who are no longer here with us.” Waacking belongs to its brave pioneers, and Double Dutch owes a ton to the Black women pushing it forward. These facts shouldn’t keep the two disciplines from getting the athletic respect they’re owed––regardless of whether they’re sports or not.

To learn more about the intricacies of waacking and Double Dutch––and those who pioneered it, visit:

Waacking: Making People See the Music (Brut)

Interview Of Tyrone Proctor (Barcelona Dance)

Princess Lockerooo | Let’s Talk About It | Waacking (Dance Mogul)

Double Dutch: From Street Game to Sport (Beth Fertig for NPR)

Double Dutch’s Forgotten Hip-Hop Origins (Lauren Schwartzberg for Vice)

Double Dutch: A Classic For Whom? (Julianna Lee Marino on Medium)

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