Many an athlete has been known to belly up to the bar.

The barre?

That’s a whole other story.

Steve Beirens, the new artistic director at the Ballet Quad-Cities School of Dance, insists that ballet can make athletes more athletic and he is encouraging school kids with dreams of sports stardom to give his beginning dance class, well … a twirl.

It is not an entirely unproven concept. More than a few successful football players – Lynn Swann, Herschel Walker, Barry Sanders and Willie Gault, for instance – have turned to dance to enhance their skills.

The Chicago Bulls used to train in the off-season with that city’s famed Joffrey Ballet troupe during The Jordan Rules era.

Simply through his beginning class, Beirens, who danced for a decade with the Joffrey, said athletes young and old can learn stretching exercises that greatly will increase their flexibility along with dance steps that will enhance their abs and other core muscle groups.

Beirens’ current class of four at the Ballet Quad-Cities downtown Rock Island studio consists of boys ages 6-12. One is a soccer player and another plays basketball.

Himself a former school-kid soccer player in his native Belgium, Beirens said his young students have found another key benefit from dance class that translates well to the field of play.

“I already have parents telling me they see increased attention spans in soccer and in basketball,” he said.

Beirens said he gladly will open classes for high school boys and college men looking to expand their athletic skills.

There is, however, one significant caveat.

“They can’t,” Beirens said, “have the idea I’m not going to teach them ballet.”

There may lie the rub.

A few United Township High School basketball players consulted last week said they certainly could see the sense in a hooper becoming a trouper.

On the other hand, they said, no thanks.

“It’s too different,” said junior Brandon Tran. “I’m not really much of a dancer.”

Star Panthers guard Kannon Burrage even was aware football great Sanders used youth ballet classes to develop the dancing feet and uncanny balance that made him, perhaps, the greatest running back in NFL history.

“I could see it working,” Burrage said, but he added, “I don’t know if I can quite see myself doing it.”

Why? Because it would be a tough sell in the UT hallways?

“That’s one of the reasons,” he said. “They might think I’m a girl.”

Yeah. There it is.: the macho factor.

“Of course it is not considered manly,” Beirens said of ballet. “It is a perception issue. A stereotype. Ballet is very athletic.

Thinking back to a dance career filled with dislocated shoulders, ailing knees and pulled thisses and thats, he said, “I can name you my injuries and you would think I am a football player.”

Yes, indeed. Ballet is a sport unto itself.

“We just do it more as an art form rather than pounding on people,” he said. “We carry 105 to 110-pound girls with one arm over our heads. And we do it gracefully.”

Interestingly, figure skating can do for young hockey players what ballet can do for would-be runners and jumpers.

“Figure skating at a young age is all about edges and balance, pivoting and all that stuff,” said Quad-City Flames coach Ryan McGill, a former NHLer. “When I was growing up, a lot of players took figure skating and then moved into power skating.”

The coach could even see figure-skating as a summer training regimen for his current crew of 20-something pros.

Flames forward Eric Nystrom, though, can’t quite see beyond the sequined shirts.

“Uh, I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t know if my friends would let me get away with that one.”

McGill, a doll-playing father of two young girls, said athletes just should get over themselves and dance with what can bring them more success.

“Put on your tutu and park your ego,” he said with a grin.

Shall we dance?

Male athletes interested in enrolling in a beginning ballet class can contact the Ballet Quad-Cities School of Dance at (309)-786-2677 or via e-mail at jcookeballetqc@sbcglobal.net. Boys classes currently are taught Mondays at 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 6:30. There is a $10 enrollment fee and classes are $5 per session.

Craig DeVrieze can be contacted at (563) 333-2610 or cdevrieze@qctimes.com.

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