The mere mention of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team is bound to make just about any American smile these days. The team's spirit, energy, and style embody all that we like to think is best about our country.
And besides, they won! Their victory and the national celebration it launched have been public validation of all the personal sacrifice, all the hours and days and weeks and years of work these women put in.
But you got the feeling that they loved the game so much that winning really wasn't everything. And in that they symbolize a lot of other Americans, the ones who put in the same intensive training without hope of the adulation that winning a big victory can bring.
So let's consider the dancers of Streb. Never heard of them, right? Well, it's hard to describe what they do in words (so be sure to tune into CBS News Sunday Morning this week). Theirs is a radical dance style that combines the grace of ballet with the danger of acrobatics. Choreographer Elizabeth Streb calls it "Pop Action," and says, "it is dangerous, and it's full of risk and I'm not interested in anything else."
She goes on to prove it with works like Bounce where seven dancers dive across and over each other into an eight foot square floor, under-girded with springs, their timing so precise that one missed second could cause a perilous collision. In other displays, the dancers dangle from harnesses, bound from trampolines to parallel bars, or dive through a sheet of glass, all in the interest of defying gravity and challenging conventions of place and space.
This work takes hours of practice each day, plus long sessions of weightlifting and muscle conditioning. The pay is low, the audiences mostly small.
Why do they do it? Nikita Maxell, a gorgeous former model, explains simply, "The first time I saw it...I said, 'this is what I want to do'." Terry Dean Bartlett, who grew up snow boarding and cliff diving in the mountains of Montana and Wyoming, says "it's a rush, it's fun. Being pushed to extreme human limits, doing the very most that is possible with your body. And flying."
Streb has been performing around New York this summer, and the company frequently goes on tour around the country, so you'll be able to catch them in action one of these days. They'll probably be glad you're there. But for these dancer-athletes, what really matters is satisfying themselves.
They don't need to compete against another tea, because they're really competing against their own goal of perfection. Like the Women's Soccer Team, their joy in what they do makes it a joy for us to watch them.