With flat-footed grace, Towson State athletes dance

A quarterback in a tutu? A halfback doing the pas de deux, the arabesque or the pirouette?

No and yes.


Athletes in the ballet class at Towson State University wear whatever is handy. But the ballet movements are part of a class they take three times a week under the direction of Susan Grubb and Karen Bradley of the TSU dance department.

Eighteen athletes -- football, baseball, and lacrosse players and one swimmer -- danced to the music of Tchaikovsky and Wagner for 50 intense minutes yesterday, and there were no injuries reported.


Twice a week the athletes twirl and promenade among themselves in a class called "Movement Skills Enhancement for Men." On Wednesdays, they get to dance with the real thing -- women.

"I think the girls enjoy us. We have fun," said Dan Crowley, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Towson State quarterback, who has passed for 1,850 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.

"He's only been sacked six times in eight games," said an athletic department spokesman. "Maybe the ballet has indeed helped his movement."

Athletic slickness was not apparent on the dance floor yesterday as the athletes -- bemused expressions on their faces -- moved flat-footed around their much smaller partners, practicing the tricky shoulder lift, the bold developpe (leg up and out), and the graceful port des bras (the carriage of arms in the swan move). Especially testing was the turn, where sweaty hands tried to manipulate slim waists.

"Sometimes they step on our toes and sometimes we step on theirs," said ballet student Donna Breach. "They don't always know the terms and what the teacher's talking about."

Kirsten Koerner put it simply: "You move and they don't."

"We're trying to teach ballet vocabulary and techniques," Ms. Bradley said. "We also believe it can improve their athletic skills."

The teachers also want to give the women a partnership experience, to get the feel of what it's like to be lifted, for instance. The shoulder lift was indeed a challenge as the women went up on sloping shoulders like shaky sacks of potatoes.


"The young men have a very sophisticated sense of movement, but they tend to be tentative and a little unsure of themselves," Ms. Bradley said. "We want them to handle their partner with the same tender approach that they would handle, say, a football."

Desperation rather than tenderness was evident in the grand jete en l'air, the finale where partners are tossed high in the air as the pairs move rapidly down the floor.

Swimmer Keith Davis, when asked why he took the course, said: "You want the truth? I took it for the three credits. But it's an interesting experience. Maybe I'll go see a ballet some day."

TSU football coach Gordy Combs, when asked what he thought of his football players taking ballet, said: "I think it's fine. Maybe it will help them read pass coverage."