Ballet and football are two physical feats one would not normally link together. One involves tights, tutus, precious little pink slippers and creatively crafted dance moves linked together to express a myriad of stories and emotion. While football involves knocking opposing participants down in a violent rage, and tons of loaded padding to assist with the impact one is sure to receive while on the field. However, whether alike or not, for a select few, ballet slippers and football pads make NFL players better on the field.
Steve McLendon, nose tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, says that Ballet is the hardest thing he has ever done and continues to be the hardest thing he currently does. The six-foot-four, 280-pound player said in a 2013 interview that he first began ballet during his senior year in college. Needing a few extra credits during his final year at Troy University, an instructor informed the young athlete that the dance form may be the only thing to keep him in football. For a chance to play the game and get the credits he needed, he trusted that instructor. The experience was so beneficial, that years later, McLendon is still at the bar doing plié’s and sous sus’s.
As an art form, ballet is beautiful to look at. The turns, the lifts, the costuming, and even the intricate moves that dancers do so effortlessly across the floor. Yet aside from the beauty that may be seen from an audience’s perspective, ballet (among many other dance styles) is quite rigorous. Often times garnering broken toes, bruised soles on the feet and tendons that are torn from strenuous movements or exercises. However, the strength, poise, and knowledge on topics such as how to take the impact pressure on the knees, may be the very tools that cause for McLendon to continue the art. Ballet slippers in one hand and football pads in the other, dance seems to make this NFL player better on all accounts.
His 2013 instructor, Stephanie Kibler, told CBS Sports that she works McLendon harder than most female dancers working in the industry. Kibler says that McLendon does extremely well in her class. Kibler expressed that although the athlete might often look at her as though she were insane, the work is beneficial nonetheless. She goes on to express that McLendon seems to be mastering the dance form. “He’s not in there just for football,” says Kibler.
In trying to avoid injury on the field, McLendon does his level best to use the techniques of the European dance form to assist him in the game. The plié, a bending of the knees, helps to strengthen the leg muscles while also making the ankles stronger as well. With football being such a contact sport, as well as an evasive one, footwork (ankles included) are a viable part of the game. Weak ankles or feet can cause one to trip, fall or simply misplace footing that could lead to serious injury on the field.
McLendon admits that after all these years, though he may not be as consistent as he once was, he still does the work that is needed. McLendon still does some of the same exercises as when he was in class, “I just walk barefoot doing the lateral.” Ballet slippers and football pads may be part of two different worlds, however, they are making this NFL player a much better and more aware member on the field.
By Danyol Jaye
Pro Football Reference- Steve McLendon
Dodd Spartans-EDU Blogs- Ballet is for the NFL
CBS Sports- Steve McLendon: Ballet is ‘harder than anything else I do’
Feature Photo Courtesy of Jeffery Beall- Jeffery Beall’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License
Inline Photo Courtesy of Katelyn Kenderdine- Katelyn Kenderdine’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License