When did it become fashionable to be unathletic?
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Author:  Hanne [ Sun Apr 24, 2011 11:51 am ]
Post subject:  When did it become fashionable to be unathletic?

It seems to me that large groups of people find it fashionable to be unathletic. It is not my business to say why, and the reasons are probably many, but I've been thinking a lot about this lately, mainly because it has such a big impact on riding.

As I am not very educated in History, I will have to ask more than I state facts here, but my impression is that athleticism went out of fashion one time between the Renaissance and the Baroque era. It's obvious from illustrations that sway backs and unathletic posture was high fashion in the baroque period, and also the riding style is very much influenced by this vogue. From the illustrations in Gueriniere's book, it is pretty clear that his ideal seat is one with passive hip joints and sway backs. The ideal for riding was artful, but not powerful. Physical power went out of fashion.

It seems to me that athletic riding has been preserved other places than in the courts of high fashion. That is, the workers of all kinds have stayed with the practical riding, while the aristocracy and fashionable riders have joined the "art for art's sake" wave, and abandoned the powerful seat and the athletic, powerful riding that can be used for combat.

The only tradition I know that seems unbroken from the days where a knight was really fighting for his life up to modern times, is in Portugal, where the herding tradition combined with the bullfighting has conserved this athletic tradition in a very effective way. Mother Nature is a very severe judge, and it is impossible to be effective, strong, fast and athletic when training for art only, especially when art is in fashion and muscles and speed are not.

Of course, ballet dancers and dressage horses often are very capable of spectacular movements and exercises, but are they able to perform in a real fight? When things are not choreographed?

Food for thought. And maybe civilized discussion? :)


Author:  Hanne [ Sun Apr 24, 2011 12:24 pm ]
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Let me add some pictures, to illustrate my point. I welcome other opinions and comments.







Please note that I am not discussing blood sports here, anyone wishing to discuss bullfighting are asked to do this in another forum. My opinion on this issue is that it is possible to find ways of competition that does not involve blood, and to learn from the ones that have been doing it, regardless of what one thinks of bullfighting.


Author:  Ingvild P [ Sun Apr 24, 2011 4:25 pm ]
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I'll just comment on the dancing part, which I am sure has a lot of similarities with ridning and with the whole cultural consept of athletisism through history. I comment only on this as it is the part of the topic I've actually spent some time studying.

European folk dancing is (by my standards) extremely athletic. It seems like a lot of the movements involved are designed to show strength, agility and so forth. The real nature of dance is of course to show off, preferably to the opposite sex, and if you give a lot of traditional folkdance settings a good look you'll (in my experience) find the courting aspect dominant. Most European folkdances are more or less the same, varying very little in the overall style. You find the same moves in Norwegian folkdance as in Irish and so on. It seems like some kind of heritage (similar to our language developments) is the common source of the style. View dancing in Asia, South-America or Africa and you’ll find completely different styles. (Ass-shaking being a major move whereas non-existent in all European styles I’ve seen.)
If you look closely to the traditional moves used by Russian (and Ukrainian, etc.) folk dancers and even some Norwegian I think you'll find a lot of functional athletic movements. The problem with Norwegian folkdance is that if you remove the group Frikar from the equation you mostly get small children and seniors performing the dance form. No wonder why it's not considered very impressive, ey? Russian folk dance on the other hand, dancing hand in hand with a serious amount of classical ballet training from a very early age, is clearly difficult and impressive. Folkdance is a major part of ballet training in Russia and a lot of dancers who never got to be professional ballet dancers end up performing folkdance instead. I haven't found any good examples of a type of folkdance who has these same types of moves for women, but as dance in all basic forms(in my opinion) is courting anyways, I'm guessing that’s because there are different things the opposite sex finds generally attractive. Being able to kick any guys ass is a great skill for any woman nowadays, but was considered quite intimidating a couple of hundred years back. Folkdance all about showing off.

This however, changed. I haven't got much experience with earlier dance references than Thoinot Arbeau's "Orchesography", a dance manual published in 1589 concerning "ballroom" dancing. (Or: things a young nobelman should know about dancing.) I must admit I haven't read it in a while, but the general impression I have is that this type of stylized dancing is one of the links in development from folkdance to ballet. The main thing is still to get girls, but instead of jumping really high you just point your feet when bowing and show of your calf muscles. It gets more subtle and strange positions with turnout gains followers.

I agree with the comparison of ballet and modern dressage. But classical dancing in northern Europe is ballet. As far as classical tango and the like I know very little of it. But being a ballet girl (Yes, you never stop being that even though you stop dancing), I don’t consider booty-shaking in any form particularly athletic. (Don’t shoot me I’m just ignorant.)
Ballet is (in my opinion) one of the most difficult type of dance you'll find today and as a widespread dance form that demand the most skill from the dancer. There is a reason why just about every professional dancer has a background from classical ballet or uses it to gain strength and technique to excel in whatever dance form he or she performs. (Most exceptions you'll find in hiphop dancers, but the moves involved in hiphop is way off the European tradition and therefore requires a completely different skill set.) But ballet is stylized and has developed a lot of strange quirks over the years, it’s far from perfect and you’ll probably find some folk dancing styles more athletic. (If preformed by athletic people who actually train a lot.)

Russian folkdance sample: ... re=related ... re=related

Renaissance dance sample: ... re=related

Classical ballet sample: (Superlol music but some great jumps)

Frikar, norwegian folkdance sample:(You should really watch this!) ... re=related

In a fight, my money would go on the male ballet trained Russian folk dancer and the female a classical ballet dancer trained in the Russian Vaganova tradition.

Author:  Hanne [ Sun Apr 24, 2011 5:41 pm ]
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Very interesting, Ingvild, and as far as I can understand, this is very much in line with what I was aiming at. Perhaps this happened in several, if not all kinds of performance styles and also a lot of sports at a certain point of time?

I don’t consider booty-shaking in any form particularly athletic.

I agree with this. And also that male folk dancers from Russia and Norway (the only ones I know anything of) are very athletic. But they have gone out of fashion at one point of time, and considered something that peasants and country folk do to impress the girls.

Who has the right to define what is desirable? And for what reason? Is it easier to idolize the unathletic than to train?

The ballet dancer at the picture first in line in my second post is obviously strong. But he is in a definitely unathletic position and posture, which illustrates a modern ideal. It is sort of feminine, a little akin to the booty-shaking you referred to, and it is definitely not athletic. To the contrary, it is detrimental to athletic movement, and typical for non-athletic women.

The same applies to the drawing of the baroque riders. The sway back and bent wrists are typical feminine traits, that we strive to eliminate in our female riders in order to help them with their seats. It seems in de la Gueriniere's manual an ideal for male riders as well. No wonder, since all people of importance from this period are pictured in this type of posture.

Later on, the unathletic posture has become a teenage ideal. James Dean is a typical expample. Here: ... ean_31.jpg

I could continue on for ages with this, but I have to come back later. Dinner is waiting to be made. ;)


Author:  Hanne [ Sun May 22, 2011 9:23 am ]
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Long time, no writing. But I said I would come back "later", and later it is..

I am wondering: Is it so that we seek to define all traits that we haven't ourselves as undesirable? Do we try to scorn all the abilities that we lack and the things we are unable to perform ourselves?

Common myths:

- All bodybuilders are low-IQ morons. I wathced a very funny moment in a TV-quiz where the winning team very surprisingly to the audience was made up of body builders. People were shocked when they realized that the body builders also had other titles, like doctors, engineers and rocket scientists. Is it possible to both have a brain and large muscles. Obviously. But how was the myth created? Of course by people who did not have large muscles, and wanted to create this myth.
- All blonde, beautiful girls are stupid. Same origin, of course.
- It is undesirable to be really athletic, because there are only wild people living in tribes that are really athletic. Or people who have to work with their hands and bodies. Hunter-gatherers who have no feel for upper class culture. We do not want to be classified with that kind of people.
- Unatletic people are well educated or culturally refined. Sometimes true, but definitely not a rule. Why have we adopted this myth anyway?
- People riding motorcycles, or living in the countryside, or in the city, or whatever, are defined as "stupid". Is it because we envy those people?
- Warriors or soldiers are evil, stupid or both. It is a long time since officers or warriors were a social upper class per se. A good way to get rid of a warrior class is to create the myth that soldiers are war mongering maniacs and not reliable.

I can go on with this for a long time. But my point is: At certain points of time, the unathletic posture became fashionable. I can with my uneducated eye see two obvoius points in time when something happened:

1. When the kings and nobility no longer fought in battles themselves, but sent lower ranking officers and solders to fight for them.

2. The idolization of the weak that started with James Dean.

This may be a provoking way to put it, especially because we have for centuries hidden behind these myths. James Dean became an idol because it was easy to become like him. Everyone wants an idol who behaves like yourself, have the same problems, even stands like you do when your'e a little depressed, and makes it look cool.

The image of "yes, I am unathletic and depressed, but I like it, fuck off" was created. Icon: The movie "Rebel without a cause".

A typical newer movie that exploits these facts is the musical "Grease". It is of course ironic, but that makes it even easier to spot the irony of the modern myths.

In a society where either the ballet dancer with the baroque femininity as an ideal or the misplaced youth of James Dean are our ideals for athletic movement, we are sitting in chairs all the time. Like the humans in "Wall-E", we are sitting so much and so often, that we have forgotten how to move through the hips.

Since control of the upper body and athletic movement through the hip joints are essential to all sports, including riding, the modern rider is in for a challenge. He has to change from the artful, feminized posture aquired by all the sitting and the idols that have influenced his whole life, and start training to become a brute, native athlet.

It remains to see if we are able to be both athletic and smart. And socially acceptable on top of it. I guess we can.


Author:  tinuviel [ Mon May 23, 2011 1:03 pm ]
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Manual labour was considered unsuited for the noble as far back as Ancient Greece, it was not until communism and the labour-movement that it began gaining status, and then only in some groups. That is because not having to work with your hands shows wealth. But it was still considered good to be athletic.

Today I think there is several movements on this. The image of the really successful, is someone that also are in good physical shape. It seems that endurance-sports are quite popular, at least among those that could be considered an elite (at least in Norway - Birkerennet feks).

When it comes to the image of the ballet-dancers above, I read his posture as ironic, and not as an ideal for the male dancer. His upper body is all slack, and not typical of the classical dancer at all.

My sister does say that many dancers are clumsy when not choreographed, so they are not all that athletic all of them :wink: But at least the teachers she uses, and the way she is teaching herself, correct movement is getting more and more important. She uses quite a lot of time explaining correct movement and how to change faulty movement when her students have faults (at least the adults).

It might also be that the unathletic ideal became fashionable with the idolisation of the youth-culture. The adolescent became the ideal, and that is the time when our bodies change and often go trough a very awkward stage before we grow into adults.

Author:  Hanne [ Mon May 23, 2011 2:41 pm ]
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Dette er Pelle på Hannes bruker...

Jeg veit jo ikkeno´ om historie, men jeg har noen innspill.

For det første; Å være god i utholdenhetsidrett gjør en ikke til noen atlet. Oftest er det snakk om å holde ut smerte, og ikke egentlig noe mer enn det. Mange klarer seg gjennom f eks Den Store Styrkeprøven, sykkelløpet fra Trondheim til Oslo, på stahet alene. Det går helt fint an. Jeg kjenner personlig flere som har gjennomført nesten helt uten trening.

Å være atletisk kan man sikkert definere på hundre millioner måter, men det må etter min mening være noe litt mer håndfast enn evnen til å løpe et gitt antall meter på en gitt tid. Det er ikke slik at lengre=bedre. Til og med jeg er i stand til å gå flere mil med oppakning, i vonde støvler, med beinhinnebetennelser, og jeg er alt annet enn en utholdende person. Når man gjør ting ekstremt, så har man oftest mistet mange andre ting på veien. F eks er utholdenhetsidrettsutøvere jevnt over ikke særlig sterke. Og vektløftere jevnt over ikke særlig utholdende. Og det finnes mange årsaker til det; Hovedsakelig genetikk, kosthold, og trening.

Det som er litt kjedelig, er at disse idrettsutøverne som er helt ekstreme, ofte blir vanlige menneskers forbilder når det gjelder å bevege seg sunt og korrekt. Eller spise ditto. Og det blir nesten alltid galt- det ender opp i diabetes, ryggsmerter, dårlige knær, og tidlig innleggelse på institusjon...

For at man skal kunne kalle seg atlet, forutsetter jeg at man er i stand til raskt å tilpasse seg nye situasjoner i fysiske sammenhenger. Uansett hva som dukker opp, skal man kunne takle situasjonen; Hesten vil ikke la seg fange? Avskjær hesten til fots. Hesten bukker? Slipp energien ut igjennom hoftene. Hesten stikker av, jogg etter, med spurter for å holde hesten innenfor synsfeltet. Osv. Bær barnet ditt hjem i armene, beskytt familien mot inntrengere, løft hengerdraget opp på kula... Det finnes uendelig mange forskjellige krav som blir stilt til kroppen. Jo flere av disse kroppen din kan takle, jo bedre atlet er du.

Og min mening er at jogging gir ikke så mye av tilpasningen som trengs for å kunne gjøre ovennevnte. Ei heller sykling, svømming eller roing. Men gjør du noe av alle de tingene, og i forskjellige tempo og varigheter, så begynner vi å snakke.



Author:  tinuviel [ Mon May 23, 2011 2:53 pm ]
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Jeg snakker egentlig mest om hva som blir ansett for å være atletisk sånn generelt, eller heller: være i god form. Være i god form ar noe man gjerne skal være, og idealet er gjerne utholdenhetsidretter.

Om dette gjengir faktisk atletisititet, er et helt annet spørsmål. Det er passer kanskje veldig bra sammen med at det er 'in' å være uatlestisk, og at det er utholdenhestidretter som er populære.

Author:  Hanne [ Mon May 23, 2011 3:35 pm ]
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Haha, Pelle didn't realize this discussion was in English. :D He's kinda bi-langual. I guess he's going to translate his post shortly.


Author:  Hanne [ Mon May 23, 2011 4:53 pm ]
Post subject: 

I'll continue in English, and try to sum up the former post, not very difficult, since Pelles opinion very much reflects mine.

What I mean by athletic, is being able to move correctly and being manouverable and agile, very much like the folk dancers Ingvild linked to. An athletic person should be strong, able to run both fast and over distances, there are many ways to measure health and fitness. I measure fitness in this context as being able to fight, run, hunt, work and be capable it all sorts of bodily work and challenges.

I agree that ballet in itself is athletic, my illustration was put there just to show the posture that seems unnatural and ironic, but very much into the modern ideal of the adolescent awkwardness.

The modern ideal of a jogger or a cross country skier is not very athletic to me in this context, because they are not usually very strong, agile, or able to perform in a hunt, fight or athletic movement as seen in Ingvild's folk dances.

Being able to walk very far does not make a person stronger. Often it means the opposite. Marathon runners lose muscle weight because muscles are too heavy when the body needs to specialize on running relatively slowly and for a long time.

I had an interesting experience yesterday. Pelle was riding at a show, displaying a little of how he rides when doing combat riding. He was just riding, without a plan or a choreography, just changing tempi, doing some transitions, a little terre-a-terre, lateral work, nothing very spectacular, it was Hugo after all. But a lot of the audience, and even the speaker called it "sexy riding" afterwards, and everyone was thrilled.

I started wordering: Why is that? Why did they react in such a way? He did very little booty-shaking and certainly nothing vulgar. He just rode. It was at times explosive, all the time powerful, not always rythmic, but always sort of dignified.

And yet, big men came to us afterwards and were absolutely thrilled. They wanted to slap Pelle's back and congratulate.

Why is it that men do not wish to watch dressage? Or riding at all, at our latitudes? Why do they not want to watch ballet either, even though we know that the training for ballet dancers is very hard?

Is it because it does not look athletic? Have we made the arts so feminine that men shy away?

I have studied this a lot, and I am trying to argue for this view in my posts on riding theory little by little, but it is a complicated topic to explain. The reason why is that very few riders are really athletic and cannot possibly know what I am talking about, and the very few who are, are not aware that everyone else are not.

I know of only two really athletic riders, and those are Pelle and David. I guess there are thousands of them i Portugal, but I don't know them. Not surprisingly, riding is seen as a very masculine sport i Portugal.

I am actually trying myself to become more athletic, I am not by far there yet, but as I train, I begin to see the pattern, being sort of in the middle between the two.

I know by experience how it feels to be weak and unathletic, and I have felt what is feels like to be strong and athletic. Just a notion of it. Enough to recognize it in others. And certainly to recocnize when it's not there.

And it suddenly struck me how we have made it unfashionable to be athletic for a very long time. I guess something is changing, since crossfit is having such huge success, and Frikar, the Norwegian folk dance group also get a lot of positive attention. Both based on very athletic training.

The modern aristocrat is the person who has time to train and intelligence to train correctly. The lower classes are the one who are working indoors, slaving in front of the PC monitors all the time.

But still we are stuck in the training ideals of yesterday, and the vision of art as something unnatural, something with swaying waistlines and broken hip lines. Something with horses lifting the front legs high and curling up the neck.

I must come back and write more, it's a big topic, but there are other things to do. :) I'll be back.

(and please be assured that athletic riding does NOT mean hard riding. To the contrary, the athletic rider is able to be more precise and more gentle, because he has more control over his body. An athletic rider is also able to let his athletic biomechanics influence the horse in a very positive way, even though many horses protest wildly to this in the beginning. We unathletic are very afraid of becoming athletic. Really. But I will get back to that in the riding theory. Stay with us.)

Author:  Saphira [ Mon May 23, 2011 5:08 pm ]
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Parkour! I cannot think of anything more athletic than that. Strength, balance, flexibility, endurance, total body control...

I mean, look at this: parkour film

I bet that guy wouldn't have a hard time learning to ride a horse...

Author:  Hanne [ Mon May 23, 2011 5:11 pm ]
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Thank you, Saphira. Of course. They know how to move. Mother nature is a very severe judge, and to manage the spectacular things those people do, you simply have to be athletic in the sense I am talking about.


Author:  Hanne [ Mon May 23, 2011 8:08 pm ]
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I've got two seconds more to write, and I just watched the parcour video.

These things are what we are made to do. We start as kids, but at some stage, we are stopped. It's too scary for our mothers. Pelle has a brave mother, and he usually did sort of things like that. Jumping from the top of a pine tree to a shorter fir tree, and sliding down the trunk, regardless of the needles. Djeez.. But you get good.

Usually, mothers say: "stop it! It will all end in crying, you will hurt yourself"

In addition, we are all brought up in homes with furniture. We are not allowed to jump in the beds or in the sofa. (Mine are, though, scary) Do not climb on the table! Sit still! Be quiet!! Be careful! You will hurt yourself! Someone can see.

You actually get in trouble if you let your kids do this kind of stuff, because women usually are so afraid of moving that they ban their children from learning to move. We are restricting the children to play in certified places only, and we deprive them of the opportunity to learn how to move. And so, eventually, we go with them to skiing training or ballet classes or karate training, and we ask them to do there, in controlled forms, what they should have been learning by playing from toddler age.

I know. I have been that kind of woman. So afraid, because I was not able to balance or move in an athletic way myself. And thus I was almost depriving my children of learning how to master what I did not know anything of myself.

I believe this is the domain of the fathers. You guys have to take back what we have taken from you. And teach us what we have missed. For women can also be athletic, if we train. And we can understand, if you explain. Just do it.


Author:  Hanne [ Tue May 24, 2011 9:17 am ]
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The common factor in all these "sports"; parcour, folk dances, athletic riding and crossfit training is the powerful hip extensions. All these people are able to move powerfully through the hips.

Most people think of unathletic, feminine swaying through the waist when we talk about the hips. They do not even know where their hips joints are.

Trollspeilet and Crossfit are both all about teaching people to start moving in an athletic way. Of course, you can't just start jumping from roof top to roof top if you are not fit to do it.

I have found some you tube clips that clearly shows some of the basic movements in crossfit, where everyone can start training correct body posture and powerful hip extensions. Watch them and see if you can see what make these people start to move in an athletic way.

Please note the increase in quality of the athletic movement in these movies. ... re=related ... re=related

In this way, you can train from a couch potatoe to very versatile athlete in a safe way.

A lot of people have never seen really athletic people, and look upon circus artists and parcourers as people from another planet. But everyone can train to become athletic. An every rider should. For the horse will thank him ever so much for it. It is impossible for a horse to be really athletic if he has to carry a couch potato around.

Every rider should be able to jump onto the horse without stirrups. Every rider should practice vaulting exercises on horseback. Every rider should work on his flexibilty and balance. Every rider should have core strength enough to stabilize the upper body. Every rider should know what powerful hip extensions mean.

I know. We have a difficult task explaining all of this to the world. But we see such difference in the riders who understand, that is reward enough.

I hope the fashion is turning away from the ideal of the weak to the ideal of the strong. I think it is. As we speak.

(and please bear in mind: Laborously working in the field, hacking potatoes for 12 hours a day, is not athletic work, if you do not work through the hips. A lot of workers have ruined their backs by working long hours in a wrong position. Athletic does not mean "good at doing one thing over a long period". This just makes you able to do just that thing.

A blacksmith may be strong, but can he hunt down a stag? Can he do backflips? Can he jump onto a horse? If he can he's athletic, because he has trained other things as well. Constant variation. That's important.)

Author:  Renate [ Mon Jul 11, 2011 9:15 pm ]
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I was reminded of this (very interesting!) discussion yesterday, when I searched the web for information about djigitovka.

But first, after reading this discussion, I think I have a less clearer impression of what "being athletic" really is, if ballet is not athletic. ... re=related
I know that dressage riders can get a horse to do something similar to dressage exercises without using the body right, but can you dance ballet like Baryshnikov in the clip above without strenght, flexibility and correct movement through the body?

Back to djigitovka:
One of the riding schools I plan to visit in St Petersburg offers lessons in djigitovka, a part of russian equestrianism that had never really caught my attention before.

But watch this: ... re=related Some might call this cheating, who dare to loose balance with a sword between your teeths.. ... re=related These talented young men and women shows that they can handle their weapons as well :shock: (and the horse at 4:10 :lol: ) ... re=related Extreme high-speed djigitovka on Akhal-Tekes on a racecourse in Turkmenistan A rare video of some of the Tsar's cossack regiment who escaped post-revolution Russia and went to Europe. The last part in colour shows sons and grandchildrens of the riders in the first part.

Is this also a way to be athletic on horseback?
Allthough they do not ride their horses collected, I'd guess it takes some athletism to do this on the horse, right? I don't know how the don-cossacks used to fight from horseback, but after watching this, I'm very glad I'd never had to meet them as my enemy..

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