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Gridiron Glisser: Kingswood Oxford Football Team Tackles Ballet

Broadway actor and dancer Tim Hughes works with Kingswood Oxford football players. Courtesy photo

The football team at West Hartford’s Kingswood Oxford School learned some new skills last week.

Broadway actor and dancer Tim Hughes works with Kingswood Oxford football players. Courtesy photo

Submitted by Jackie Pisani, Kingswood Oxford

Instead of talking about huddles, blitzes, and sacks, the Kingswood Oxford football team learned a slew of new vocabulary, including plie, etendre, tendu, and glisser when they experienced a ballet workshop with Broadway actor and dancer Tim Hughes on Nov. 2 before their football practice.

The muscular, 6-foot-7-inch Hughes, a former high school basketball player and The Strong Man in The Greatest Showman and Pabbie in Frozen proved to be an excellent and aspirational role model for the athletes as he demonstrated the athleticism, strength, flexibility, and coordination required for the intense dance training, much like football. Theater Director Kyle Reynolds organized this ingenious mash-up to promote community among the disparate interests and groups on campus, forging common bonds. “Our dancers make it look easy on stage,” Reynolds said.  “Our football players got to see firsthand how hard it is to dance.”

To make the experience more accessible to the players, Hughes forwent the classical music and played a mix of Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and Seale for the athletes to dance to. As Hughes demonstrated the dance moves, he explained to students how to use their core muscles and create momentum. He said that as the youngest of four boys, whose brothers went on to play college basketball, there was an expectation in the family that he would continue his basketball career, too.

“But I wanted to sing and dance,” he said. “In my school, you had to choose between arts and athletes, so I chose to follow my passion. But I brought all of my natural athleticism into my career, and being an athlete has actually made my career. I’ve had a successful career with little to no injury, and I credit that to having diversified my own workouts and implementing foundational elements of dance and ballet to help me maintain doing eight shows a week on Broadway.”

Hughes started the athletes with some ballet basics – plies – which he noted was similar to doing squats in the gym, but instead of taking the weight into the heels as in weightlifting, the body’s weight is more evenly distributed into the toes when doing a plie. “This approach to working out helps maintain a lengthy muscle, and it helps you to move,” Hughes said. “Incorporating some of these dance moves gives you more spring, speed, and balance in your play.”

Wearing their jerseys and athletic socks, the players gamely did a complicated routine (complete with pirouette) across the floor in groups of three and cheered and high-fived one another after they completed their turn. The athletes appreciated the drills. Not only did they learn how to protect their back and the correct placement of their knees, but they also leaned into a new experience with good humor. As Hughes said, “Breaking out of your comfort zone is when the real growth occurs.”

Wide receiver and cornerback Rhnadyn Bair ’24 gained a greater appreciation for his fellow classmates who dance. “It’s very hard. It’s no joke,” he said. “The dancers have the same dedication and hard work as we have for football. KO should do this with all teams. You learn that there’s little difference between artists and athletes.”

Nate Bowes ’24, quarterback and outside linebacker, felt that some skills could be easily translated onto the field. “Everything we learned today was hard,” he said. “These skills will help with balance when we’re recovering from being tackled and explosiveness when we’re getting out of our stances. We can bring ballet to our athleticism and help us when we play.”

“Today was a huge success,” Reynolds said. “The fact that our football players were so open and flexible to put on a new pair of shoes – ballet shoes – and get out there and learn some new techniques speaks to the kinds of kids we have here at KO. I love that our students can bridge the gap between artists and athletes. We’re trying to nourish the talents of our students so they can be truly transformative so that you can be both the quarterback and dance and utilize those skills together.

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