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Savannah Thompson

Research Essay

Kate Monson

30 November 2015

Prima Players

After ESPN went behind the scenes with 320-pound Pittsburgh Steeler’s nose

tackle Steve McLendon, Dance Spirit took the reigns to share the report with the dance

world in their September 2013 issue. It reads, “Steve McLendon, who, yes, takes a weekly

ballet class—at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, no less…” (Fuhrer). Margaret Fuhrer the author

of the Dance Spirit article and Dance Spirit’s editor in chief continues to explain that his

ballet habit began in college. McLendon said, “I needed like an extra credit or two, and the

first day when I walked into class, there were nothing but females in there,” he continues,

“Then [the teacher] told me it could help me with football…”

Just like NFL player Steve McLendon, many of the Football players at Brigham

Young University take a dance class to fulfill the letters or arts general. A former Brigham

Young University player, Jared Richardson, was one of the players who had to put aside

his pride and trade out his cleats for black shiny Latin dance shoes. At first Jared dreaded

going to ballroom class, but slowly he began to see that dance was actually improving his

footwork at practice. Jared began to appreciate all the different aspects that dance were

being affected positively in his football performance. As he learned to maneuver his hips in

all directions, to spiral is upper spine, and to drive his pelvis, he was surprised to learn that

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the dance principles that he was learning could benefit his performance in even the simple

act of throwing a football.

The first part of training to become a successful football player lies in learning the

proper form and stance. Through strength training and the practice of many drills, these

athletes focus on velocity, accuracy and distance. As they continue to master the basic

aspects of becoming a strong athlete (balance, coordination, speed and core strength) they

are able to move onto learning how to throw a football. “There are five movement phases

that occur to accurately throw a football. These include: the starting position, the windup,

the step and point, the turn and throw, and the follow through” (Rigano). Each of these

steps contains specific kinesiological aspects that are vital to the performance. National

Football League quarterback Phil Simms explains some of these qualities, “Stay relaxed,

use the throwing arm to ‘whip’ the ball rather than push it, and rotate at the waist as the

ball is being thrown. Follow through with the thumb pointing downward” (Albergotti 2).

As a player applies these qualities: relax, whip, rotate, and point, they will become much

more effective in the small details that are actually extremely vital to proficiently throwing

a football.

Dance training and technique also requires knowledge about specific kinesiological

forms and practices. Just as the football needs to be held in a specific way, with at least

two fingers on the laces and about a 90 degree angle at the elbow, dance also has specific

qualities and forms that must be mastered before a dancer can move on to “throwing their

football.” There are many principles that when dancers know them and apply them, can be

very helpful to their dancing. I would like to focus on two of Irmgard’s Bartenieff

Fundaments: Core-Distal Connectivity and Body Half, which are critical principles needed

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to become a truly successful dancer. I wouldn’t doubt that as they are applied to football

players, they would have the same desired effect.

Core-Distal Connectivity can be explained best through this poem, “Coming into

my innermost core, all parts of me find relationship. I experience support within and

lifelines of connection through which I pulsate and radiate bright with internal energy. I

can go out from my core, because I know I can return. I am centered, supported by my core”

(Hackney 67). This poem accentuates the importance of core awareness and how it shapes

the way we can respond when something, (or in football when “someone”), comes to

throw us off our center.

Core-Distal is the ability to find all body parts in space as they relate to the center

of us. As a dancer becomes aware of their personal kinesphere they will find that they will

become more connected within themselves to be able to find coordination of their

neuromuscular pathways. As all body parts are connected, even the slightest shift in one

part, can affect every other part. As dancers and athletes loose sight of the complex

movement relationship of the body as a whole, they “stick their limbs into the right places

to fulfill tasks in a sort of helter-skelter way, without organizing framework” (Hackney 67).

As players and dancers apply this full body awareness and core connectedness to their

individual practices, they will have an increase in coordinated and full body performance.

They will create organized muscle sequences and patterns that all stem from the center and

core strength of their bodies.

As I went through some Core-Distal exercises with Jared, he was able to better

understand the relationship of his core to the rest of his limbs. In his football training, he

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had never learned what his deep pelvic floor muscles were, let alone how to engage them.

As part of his daily training he had always focused on strengthening his rectus and

transverses abdominal muscles. As I taught Jared where these deep internal muscles were

found and which muscles made up the pelvic floor, he was able to gain an image that

would help him to know how to better locate and strengthen these muscles. Once he

learned where these muscles were located, we went through some strengthening exercises

that gave him a better understanding of the importance of these deep muscles. He

discovered that when he was engaging these muscles while in his football stance and throw,

that his whole body was in more control.

After we finished our lecture and exercises, I inspected him as he threw the football

for the fourth time. I could see that his abdominals seemed to be guiding each step leading

up to the release of the ball from his fingers. This looked much different than the first two

times that he threw the ball. I could see a change in his core internal energy, which spread

like wild fire into the crevices of his entire body. I asked him if he felt a difference and

even he could feel a difference in the coordination of his body as a whole. He said, “My

lower body feels more connected to my upper body, and just all of my body feels more in

sync.”

As I observed a rehearsal with dancers from the professional company, Salt

Contemporary Dance, I saw that they too had gained an increase in full body control while

using the Core-Distal principle. While Salt was rehearsing full out, and even while they

were just marking the choreography, I was able to see that core-distal was a non-negotiable

for almost every dancer. I observed which dancers engaged their core but did not let it

connect and coordinate their body as a whole. In contrast, I saw dancers who had an

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increased grounding as they not only sensed their core, but also had an understanding of

the way it affected every part of their body. Many of the dancers who I could see had a

magnificent understanding of core-distal seemed to be stronger, more fluid and more

athletic dancers. Through this awareness, I was able to see that Core-Distal, is an essential

awareness that every human, (both dancer and athlete) can benefit from, just as Jared was

able to see these benefits as he applied this principle to his football training.

“Body half is a principle that teaches awareness of the midline while learning to

stabilize one half of the body to support mobility on the other half” (Longstaff). As one

learns to stabilize one half of the body, the freedom and expression within the other half

increases significantly. This is important because it creates a greater opportunity for

strength and solidity in both halves of the body through learning to stabilize each half

separately. Body half is a principle that can be difficult to apply because it is not an innate

motion within the body. Cross Lateral feels more natural to us because it is the way we

learned to crawl. As we continue to grow into young children and then into adults, cross

lateral becomes the only way we know how to walk. In contrast, as we try to walk with the

same arm and leg swinging forward, it will always feel unnatural. As awkward as it may

feel though, body half is an essential principle to apply to dance and athletics.

After I taught Jared the principle of body half, he was able to recognize body half

within the simple act of throwing a football. Jared could see how being able to ground his

non-dominant side, created more mobility in his dominant side. As we worked on exercises

that not only gained awareness of body half, but that also created coordination and strength,

Jared was able to perform a more proficient throw. He was able to better recognize the

movement that he had already been trained to do, but he was able to tap into this

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knowledge to create a stronger image. Simply gaining comprehension and understanding

of this principle helped him become aware of what was going into the action he was

performing. This is one of the greatest benefits that applying dance principles to athletics

can produce- a mindfulness of what each action entails, which becomes a magnified

dictionary to what they already thought they knew about movement. Before Jared had

learned about these dance principles, he was aware of his body exteriorly, but was not fully

aware of how important the internal connections were to the peripheral performance.

As I watched body half being applied in Salt Contemporary Dance’s rehearsal

setting, I found that each dancer who fully understood the concept had an increase in

strength while on one leg, or while stabilizing one half of their body. Hackney explains the

physical importance of body half through this example, “I hold the nail with my left hand

and pound the hammer with my right.” I loved this analogy because it emphasizes the

absolute dependence the working leg has on the standing leg. Without the strength from

the “hand” holding the nail, then the nail would flail all over the place, becoming nearly

impossible to ever plant the nail into the wall. As I watched these dancers, the nail analogy

was very clear to me. I saw how each dancer used their right or left side independently but

also together, to produce the same goal. I was also able to witness the frequency of body

half in each choreographic piece.

Body half has become very popular in choreography because it seems to depict a

sort of optical illusion. Because body half is not the most natural motion to dancers, and

non-dancers alike, when dancers master body half with coordination, ease and flow it

becomes magical. Seeing the dancer’s ability to isolate one half, while also creating such

fluidity in the other, entrances the viewers. As I observed these professional dancers

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rehearse, it was clear to me of the importance of understanding body half. Those who were

able to really let go and release the one side completely had an increase in the dynamics of

their dancing. Through isolation and release they gained a deeper connection to themselves

and to the viewer. Their performance became raw and relatable, and their technical

abilities became beyond grounded and energetic.

Many football players feel that dance training and football training are completely

separate. The stigma within football players taking dance classes is that they feel it is

gender specific. Jared said that originally he had always felt that dance was anything but

masculine. He went on to talk about how most football players and athletes see dance as

mainly a female art form. Psychologically football players may feel that dance softens

them emotionally. They may also feel that they cannot connect to dance because it is so

emotionally motivated.

As I talked with Jared about this stigma, I was able to explain the way that dance

and football are alike in the way that they both are driven by passion, which is an

emotional motivator. I also demonstrated to him the fact that, although football players

may not be aware of their innate desire to dance, these athletes dance nearly every time

they enter the field; while doing a battlefield dance that originates from New Zealand,

called the Haka, (which most football teams perform before each game), not to mention the

victory dances that are done after every touchdown.

Usually we seem to believe that football and dance go together just as well as the

two opposites, love and hate. As the evidence has shown, football and dance are more

closely related. They go together more like the complimentary peanut butter and jelly,

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(very opposite in texture and taste, but exquisite when placed together). Many of the

principles and fundaments in dance, are contained in football, but cannot be detected by the

unseeing eye. As each fundamental and principle was applied to NFL player Steve

McLendon, and our former BYU player Jared Richardson, it became clearer and clearer

how football and dance coincide and even compliment each other. After taking a few ballet

classes McLendon became hooked because of the strength it brought to him. He said, “all

of the classes have strengthened my lower body, particularly my ankles and feet, making

me less prone to injury on the field.Jared was also able to witness the benefits of dance

training to his football performance. He highlighted that dance could increase his overall

strength, increased awareness of his body, and full body coordination

Using dance as a method to cross train will improve football performance. The

simple act of throwing a football can become more grounded, precise, and spiraled than

ever before. As peculiar as cranberry sauce seems on top of the thanksgiving turkey, if

dance principles are applied to the training of football players, even their personal stance,

throw and follow-through, will undoubtedly improve. I wouldn’t hesitate to believe that

the team, who also dances, would bring home the victory at this season’s turkey bowl.

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Works Cited

Longstaff, J.S. "Bartenieff Fundamentals: 'Basic 6'" Laban Analysis Reviews. 2004. Web. <http://www.labananalyses.org/laban_analysis_reviews/laban_analysis_notation/body_con

nectivity/Bartenieff_fundies_basic_6.htm>.

Rigano, Arianna. "Kinesiological Analysis: Throwing a Football." Boston University. Digication, Inc., 2015. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.

Henkel, Mr. "Throwing a Football." Blogger. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Making Connections: Total Body Integration through Bartenieff Fundamentals. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Albergotti, Reed. “How to Throw Like a Pro.” Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition 08 Dec. 2007: W1+. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Longstaff, J.S. "Bartenieff Fundamentals: 'Basic 6'" Laban Analysis Reviews. 2004. Web. <http://www.labananalyses.org/laban_analysis_reviews/laban_analysis_notation/body_con

nectivity/Bartenieff_fundies_basic_6.htm>.

Fuhrer, Margaret. “Are You Ready for Some Football [Players in Ballet Class]?” Dance Spirit Magazine 26 September. 2013. Print.

Interview: Jared Richardson (Current Football Coach & Former BYU Football Player)

Interview: Joni Tuttle (Professional Dancer on Salt Contemporary Dance)

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