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Not sport

As a form of exercise, tai chi is quite difficult to classify.
Tai chi is most definitely not a sport. Nor is it remotely like working out with weights or at the gym.
In many regards, tai chi is unlike other martial arts. But it does has some elements in common with dance

Movie dance

A truly skilled dancer uses their body in a manner that looks effortless. If you watch Zhang Ziyi in House of Flying Daggers, her dancing abilities are fabulous.
'The Echo Game' scene looks almost like tai chi, but it is dance.


Many people learn tai chi just so they can show off to somebody else.
They learn certain movements from the outside,
but they the miss the inside, the essence.
And some tai chi teachers also have made this mistake.

(Chungliang Al Huang)


Dance can be a demanding form of exercise. It requires:

  1. Stamina

  2. Strength

  3. Suppleness

  4. Research & study

  5. Balance

  6. Lower body strength

  7. Rhythm

  8. Poise

  9. A long-term investment of time and effort

  10. Timing

  11. Coordination

  12. Concentration

  13. Proprioception (relative position of body parts/awareness of how much strength is being applied)

  14. Footwork

  15. Grace

  16. Nimbleness

  17. Agility

  18. Kinaesthetic awareness (knowing where your limbs are positioned without needing to look)

  19. Ambidextrous use of the limbs

  20. Good skeletal alignment

  21. Body control

  22. Presence of mind 

  23. The ability to memorise a complex sequence of movements

  24. Accurate performance

  25. Precision

  26. Patience

  27. The willingness to persevere

  28. Hard training

  29. Daily practice

  30. The capacity to deal with setbacks and obstacles

All of these qualities are necessary for tai chi.
To be skilled at tai chi, the student must possess the body and aptitude of a dancer.


Harder than it looks

There are many different types of dance that require a level of skill that is not apparent in the performance.
You may watch it and think that it is easy - until you try it yourself.
Tai chi is just the same.

Asian dance

Tai chi uses the body in a manner that looks similar to traditional forms of Asian dance.

Is tai chi dance?

No. Tai chi may look like dance and move like dance but it is something else - something far more complex than dance.
The art has many facets.
It is a healthy form of exercise, a system of combat, meditation training, the physical embodiment of Taoist insights and a spiritual journey.


Tai chi involves combat.
The choreographed routines may look like dance, but they are actually martial arts applications joined together.
Those graceful, flowing movements are expressions of kinetic energy, or force.

Inner quality

Tai chi is internal; a student moves from the inside out. The outward appearance is secondary to the internal work involved.
Outward forms do not reflect skill in tai chi; it is the unseen substance that counts. The skill lies within.

Hiding your skill

Tai chi has an entirely different focus to dance. A dancer performs their art. They express openly.
A tai chi student must learn to use their body to cultivate and express energy. But they must also conceal their actions.
The energy expressions must be folded within the art. This is not so easy.


Expressing energy is only one facet of tai chi.
The application of the system is an exciting endeavour in which your body must work in conjunction with an aggressor.
Physical coordination, power, timing, sensitivity and strength must combine in one seamless moment.


What you do and how you do it must be perfectly harmonised with the requirement of the situation. There must be total presence and composure.
The challenge of combat teaches a person how to cope, how to manage conflict and overcome stress.


Tai chi is concerned with balancing relationships. It explores how an unbalanced person feels to be at odds with the world and with themselves.
By healing your body and realising that all things work together, you can let-go and find freedom.


The beauty of tai chi lies in the fluid grace of the movements. Your body must move without pause or hesitation, unfurling and then withdrawing without effort.
Every single expression must spiral throughout the body as you naturally open and close the joints.
Your body ripples and flows like water.

Tai chi works in a way that is completely opposite from many forms of dance, specifically ballet. It seems that more and more people interested in dance and movement are turning to Eastern forms of movement as they search for a richer and more supple expression.

In tai chi the body is placed in a position where the six outward rotators are eccentricity contracting with the abdominals and gluteals relaxed. This eccentric contraction of the the six outward rotators counteracts the short resting length of the iliopsoas as well as gravity. Being in the tai chi posture utilizes gravity to one's advantage. The main difference then is in the use of the abdominals and the gluteals, and that in tai chi the force of gravity is utilized to stretch the iliopsoas and flexors, while in ballet gravity is not used.

It is possible to use gravity to stretch the flexors and iliopsoas in ballet but this is not understood in the teaching of this art.

(Liz Koch)

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Page created 18 April 2005
Last updated 16 June 2023