Smith inspires men to dance
by DINESH RAMDE, Associated Press
- Jay Pintor was convinced that dancing
"didn't look manly." Not even five years of cajoling
from his wife Nicole could coax him onto the dance
But it took only three months for football great
Emmitt Smith to change his perspective.
Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader, was half
of the winning couple on the third season of ABC's
"Dancing With the Stars." Dance instructors across
the country say Smith's victory in November has
redefined the boundaries of "coolness" and inspired
legions of reluctant men who otherwise considered
dancing beneath their dignity.
"I definitely wasn't into it," said Pintor, 40, a
landscaper who attended a recent "Dancing With the
Stars" performance with his wife at the Bradley
Center in Milwaukee. "But then you see this big
football player doing it - I mean, you don't get
much manlier than Emmitt. I just don't feel as
Now Pintor practices waltz moves in his living
room with his self-taught wife, a change of heart
that dancers say is playing out across the nation.
There are no official statistics on dance-studio
enrollments. But instructors say they've seen a
surprising increase in the number of formerly
hesitant men, who say Smith is the reason they're
giving ballroom dancing a whirl.
Bobby Gonzalez, manager of Arthur Murray Dance
Studio in San Jose, Calif., said he definitely
noticed an "Emmitt effect." His studio added about
45 students during the three-month period in which
Smith's "Dancing" season aired, as compared to about
10 in the same period last year.
"Lots of guys didn't really give credit to how
much (dancing is) a sport, how athletic it can be,"
said Gonzalez, 43. "But Emmitt definitely proved it
One of Gonzalez's students, Steve Hill, said
Smith's success persuaded him to not only take up
ballroom dancing but to be proud of it.
"It was inspiring to see this rough and tough guy
not just surviving, but excelling," said Hill, 46.
"Now I figure, if I want to do it, I should do it.
Let the stigma be for the viewers, not the doers."
Male dancers have frequently risked stigma
although performers such as Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire
and Savion Glover have "made the world safe for
men," said Dan Froot, who teaches choreography and
performance at the University of California at Los
Movie stars, such as John Travolta, inspired
dancers in the 1970s, a time when dance fads like
the Hustle also emboldened men to boogie with a
The publisher of a magazine dedicated to dance
education said Travolta succeeded because he
replaced tights and dancing shoes with fashionable
clothes and a masculine demeanor. Rhee Gold of Gold
Rush magazine said Smith extended that philosophy.
"When you see football players on dancing shows,
whether they win or not, that's going to change a
masculine guy's mind," Gold said.
Kris Gehring of Hartford, Wis., was nicknamed "Twinkletoes"
after he told other construction workers that he now
takes ballroom dancing lessons. But he takes the
teasing in stride, especially since his burly
friends seem more intrigued than condescending.
"I honestly had a good conversation with my boss
when he found out," said Gehring, 29. "He asked if I
dance like Emmitt. I said, not quite."
A marketing agent for Smith said the former
Dallas Cowboys running back was not available to
discuss his dancing.
But plenty of Smith's fans unabashedly laud their
idol for inspiring them to waltz and fox-trot.
Cyndi Dorber, the owner of A Dance With Me in
the Dallas suburb of Lewisville, said 50 new
students enrolled at her studio during Smith's run,
compared to 10 in the same span last year.
"It's been crazy - my phone's been ringing off
the hook," Dorber said. "If nothing else, he
reinforced that it's OK to be a big man and
It's even OK to be a dancing ex-Marine, as Jim
Leverett, 50, can attest. He and his wife had
already taken up ballroom dancing but Leverett
credited Smith's performances with giving him the
courage to admit his hobby to his ex-military
"(Smith) changed other people's perspectives,"
said Leverett, a project manager from Flower Mound
outside Dallas. "I wouldn't have felt comfortable
telling people I dance. But now he's made it OK."