Pittsburgh Steeler nose tackle Steve McClendon at the ballet bar.
Further Review: The story of dance
December 20, 2013 A sports-minded friend of mine was watching The Janice Center dance recital on Sunday and said he couldn't believe how athletic some of the girls were. He was impressed with their rhythm, coordination, conditioning and how well they handled some of the difficult moves.
I told him that many of the participants actually play youth, modified, jayvee and even varsity sports. There are girls who run cross country, play volleyball, basketball and run track. A few of them say that ballet or hip hop helps them with their sports.
It's no secret that professional athletes have turned to dance to help them with their footwork, balance, coordination. Currently, Pittsburgh Steeler nose tackle Steve McLendon participates in ballet classes throughout the year, even during the season. The 320-pound lineman started taking the class as a credit course in college and has stuck with it. He says it's helping him stay relatively injury free by strengthening his knees, ankles and feet so much that he can tell the difference when he hasn't taken ballet in awhile.
"It's harder than anything else I do," McLendon told the Pittsburgh Gazette newspaper.
Ironically McLendon is literally following in the footsteps of another more graceful Steeler, Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann who studied ballet, jazz and tap from age four through high school. Swann has often said that his mother's insistence on the dance training is what made him such a good athlete.
Former New York Jets receiver Al Toon also took ballet and insists that it helped him break tackles, run precise routes and make those stellar sideline catches. And now we've seen throngs of professional athletes including boxers, football and basketball players, wrestlers, sprinters, swimmers, race drivers, gymnasts and speed skaters compete in Dancing With the Stars.
You get the idea. Dance should not just be for those interested in dance or mostly females. All forms of dance will tone muscles, develop better body awareness and improve strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, footwork, dexterity and agility. To be honest, more high school coaches should urge their athletes to take dance lessons of some sort. Better yet, perhaps they should take the classes themselves and see firsthand what they can do.
This is not a blatant promotion for dance, but a call for young athletes to think outside the weight room and fitness world to improve their skills. There are a lot of art forms that can work wonders for the body and that's what sports ultimately comes down to: getting the most out of the human body.
A quick shout out to my wife, Tanya, coincidentally, a hip hop and ballet instructor herself. She recently completed a half marathon (13.1) just eight months after seriously taking up running. She braved the bitter cold and hilly loops of Central Park to finish the first-ever Frozen Bonzai race. It was a great atmosphere in New York City a couple of weeks ago and she got it done. I'm proud of her she could barely run two miles less than a year ago and now she's thinking about a full marathon. I will not be joining her because I still can't run two miles! I can walk 36 holes up and down hills (the equivalent of about eight miles) carrying a 40-pound bag. That's the power of the mind at work.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” appears every Friday.