“The best athletes are often dancers,” said Linda Schmidt, owner of Linda’s Dance Studio, Somerset. “My four sons all danced and were in sports. Coaches often commented on their balance, control, flexibility, agility and speed that they developed in dance.”
Andy Rush, rehabilitation services director for Somerset Hospital, said athleticism and dancing go hand-in-hand, although there are athletes who can’t dance.
“The training and conditioning of athletes has changed from the days of only lifting weights,” he said. “Now trainers focus on coordination, balance, agility, fluid movements and core strength to improve performance. We train top athletes. Our staff goes to conferences to learn the latest procedures to apply them.”
Rita Thomas, who teaches Zumba classes in Meyersdale, said she was actually a little surprised that Ward can dance because he’s such a tough football player. She didn’t think he could be so agile. Zumba is aerobic exercise based on dance.
Berlin Brothersvalley High School head football coach Doug Paul said he doesn’t think anything Hines Ward would do could surprise him.
“To be able to play the demanding game of football in the NFL at his age (35) and at the level he still plays at is amazing in itself,” Paul said. “He did do extremely well, though, for stating at the beginning of the episode that he could not dance.”
All four agreed that dance lessons could help athletes improve. Rush recalled that former Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann said that he took several years of dance lessons that included ballet, tap and jazz. They helped a great deal with body control, balance, a sense of rhythm and timing.
“Lynn Swann was known for his fluid movement, flexibility and explosive leaps,” Rush said. “Any professional athlete has a level of dedication and work ethic that are tremendous. The same with dancers. It takes hours of conditioning and practice.”
Paul also remembered Swann.
“Your old-fashioned hard-nosed football junkies would say dancing is soft, but there are a lot of benefits that athletes could gain from dancing,” Paul said. “Your more explosive athletes are usually your athletes with the higher levels of flexibility, agility and coordination. These are all qualities that can be gained from dancing. It is well documented that Lynn Swann took ballet classes during his NFL career, and he was very graceful on the football field as well.”
Thomas said dance training might help athletes be nimble and quick. It could help with agility and to get rid of clumsiness.
“Dancers and athletes practice intensely,” she said. “Dancing isn’t as easy as many people may think.”
Schmidt said training for athletics or for dance can be very intense.
Paul said he doesn’t have experience in dance himself, only a college course on folk and ballroom dance. But he has watched athletes in past sessions of “Dancing With the Stars” and some struggled.
“When they show the previews of the stars learning how to do the dance, you often see them sweating and breathing heavy, much like they would at a sports practice,” Paul said.
They disagreed over what is more difficult — athletics or dance.
Schmidt thinks dance is more difficult.
“In dance, you have to have a beautiful form and still you have to make it look easy,” she said.
Thomas thinks a sport is more difficult because games last longer than a dance performance. An athlete has to build endurance to be able to give their best for the entire game.
“Also, I think in sports it really takes that winner mentality,” she said. “It’s as much mental as it is physical. I think of dancers dancing as more of an art. Dancers can bring their own style to a dance, which makes you want to watch them. Dancing can be freeing or expressive.”
Rush thinks the level of difficulty depends on the sport.
“Dance is not combative like some sports are, but both take dedication and hard work,” he said. “Any time you are at the highest level, the elite athlete or dancer, you have worked for years. Professional athletes are very competitive, no matter the sport, even when they are playing a sport other than their profession — even playing horseshoes at a picnic.”
Paul said they are both difficult in their own way. To be a professional athlete or dancer takes specialized training in that area. Not many NFL players would be able to make a cross-over to another major league sport and be as good as they were in football without additional training.
“The only thing I will say is I believe football is more demanding on your body because of the brutal nature of the game,” he said.