…but don’t get so emotional, baby.
I’m just about halfway through reading John Feinstein’s book on the Army-Navy rivalry. While recounting the game between Army and Notre Dame in 1995–the one primarily quarterbacked by junior Ronnie McAda and where a successful two-point conversion in the bottom of the fourth quarter would’ve given Army a 29-28 victory over the Fighting Irish–Feinstein comments, “Emotion, as any coach will tell you, only takes you so far…Once the game starts, emotion may carry you for a play or two or even an entire series, but that’s about it. Emotion can also work against you, make you tight, take away your ability to play on instinct” (187).
I ask all you footballers and coaches: is emotion not part of instinct? Is instinct not part of emotion? Does acting on instinct only imply that one doesn’t have to think beforehand? that one simply knows what to do next? Does it also apply to feeling? that one doesn’t have to be fired up to execute one’s job?
In other performative athletic activities such as ballet, figure skating, fencing, boxing, and various martial arts, bringing and conveying emotion is an essential part of the game-play. Boxing, martial arts, and fencing may involve some bluffing to confuse one’s opponent, but punching, kicking, dodging, and parrying concern more than just literally going through the motions. One has to exhibit a certain demeanor, even if it is feigned and part of the strategy to win. With ballet and figure skating, displaying and applying emotions are not up for debate. An accomplished dancer may be able to do fouette turns for minutes on end followed by a series of triple pirouettes, but if there’s no feeling in it, then it’s just a sequence of movements.
Alas, playing the lead role in a ballet is not the same as being starting quarterback, running back, tight end, or cornerback. For one, football players wear helmets. No matter how many times the camera goes in for an extreme close-up, whatever the eyes say won’t be analogous to what the whole body of a dancer communicates. When the players are on the bench and not wearing the head gear, they’re not participating in the game-play. They may be smiling or scowling from having nabbed or fumbled the ball, but that grin or frown occurs after the fact.