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School tries ballet for sports from football to lacrosse

 

By Lea Ann Overstreet Allen
Photographs by Shelley Mays
The Tennessean
December 7, 2009

 

Herschel Walker did it. So did Lynn Swann. These football greats have more in common than their athletic abilities on the gridiron. Back in the day they were also known for dabbling in ballet.

It was no secret that athletes like Swann, who was an acclaimed wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, discovered that the principles behind dance could help him with strength, balance and agility, vital components of football as well as other sports.

The connection between dance and sports is something the administration at Ensworth High School thought was important to teach to its students. So now not only are the school’s athletes preparing for game days by practicing their respective sports, they are also practicing pirouettes.

“The class is making me a more well-rounded athlete,” said football player Myers Beaird. “It helps strengthen muscles that are not usually used in the weight room and also improves flexibility, balance and coordination. I am a much more limber athlete now. I am stronger, more agile. … The class has made me less injury prone as well,” he said.

Strength, flexibility improve
Dance can work for all sports — basketball, ice hockey, lacrosse, cross-country — as is apparent from the student athletes in the class, which includes standout tailback Orleans Opoko-Darkwa.

“It helps you learn to use more muscles for balance or changing direction quickly,” said lacrosse and volleyball player Carol Allen. “I think flexibility is always helpful in athletics. It increases speed and agility in addition to just making your overall performance better.”

And the class hasn’t just enhanced Allen’s athletic abilities. While she was nervously looking forward to the class, she ultimately has gained new friends, all of whom share the common interest of sports.

“I knew all the people would be really fun to hang out with and would have good personalities. I was a bit concerned about being able to contribute to the class, or whether or not it would be fun or just work. … I have loved getting to know everyone and learn these dance techniques,” Allen said.

For Matt Scarola, who runs track and cross-country, a noticeable change in his legs has improved his skills. “This dance class has greatly strengthened my lower legs and specifically ankles and feet, which has increased my balance and stability in running,” he said. “I was nervous about taking the class at first because I had never danced before, but now I look forward to class every day because everyone has a good time together.”

Lots of guys try it
This is the first semester for the dance class. “It’s the most successful introductory dance course that we have offered at Ensworth,” said teacher Sarah Shoemaker. “I have 17 students this semester and 13 next semester.” More than half of the class is male, she said.

Shoemaker has also taught the students yoga to improve flexibility, but ballet is the most important part of the class. “Ballet technique is physically the most demanding dance technique to execute,” she said. “I knew they would get a workout in a new and different way through ballet training.”

 

 

But Shoemaker is not trying to turn these athletes into professional dancers, only “give them exercises that enhance their ability on the field and court. They need the athletic meat of dance … how to transfer weight quickly, how to maintain balance. I think they have been surprised at how many exercises translate to things they do in their sport,” Shoemaker said.

Football coach Ricky Bowers said that while “flexibility, core strength, balance, discipline, endurance, and injury prevention are a few of the obvious benefits of our program,” another plus has emerged from the class. “Maybe the most important influence dance has had is on the boys’ appreciation for the athleticism of a dancer,” Bowers said.

And he might be right. The class has been so successful that although its description said there would be no performance required Shoemaker said the students have “begged” to perform. The class is scheduled to dance at the school’s holiday assembly set for Dec. 18.

“They have been pioneers, fearless and open-minded. Hopefully I helped them as athletes while giving them a new understanding of the art form. That was the goal,” Shoemaker said.

 

Copyright © 2009 The Tennessean

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One Comment

  1. Awesome! It’s great to see the guys giving ballet a go! They will reap the rewards of more toned, flexible and strong bodies as a result.


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