Fancy footwork lands
Emmitt Smith a chance at 'Stars' trophy and inspires plenty of North Texans to
join him in the ballroom
AM CST on Tuesday, November 14, 2006
At Skillz Salon, a barbershop in West Plano where black professional athletes
get their hair cut, the talk these days is all about No. 22. But guess what? It
has nothing to do with football.
"He's been doing really well. He's a phenomenal dancer," says barber
Sedrick Fort, 32.
Mr. Fort and the Skillz Salon clientele love to discuss Emmitt Smith's latest
moves, which have nothing to do with outfoxing linebackers. Rather, the chatter
is all about the former Cowboy's spectacular showing on Dancing With the
Smith, with dancing partner Cheryl Burke, has a shot at another title
As Mr. Smith, 37, prepares to compete in the finals of the hit series Tuesday
and Wednesday, the National Football League's all-time leading rusher is, once
again, the talk of the town.
Mr. Fort, whose regulars include Mr. Smith's former teammates and closest
friends, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, says the football great is giving
millions of people far more than enjoyment he's giving them hope as well.
The former Cowboy's elaborate dips and smooth glides carry with them a
cross-cultural appeal that's cutting through lines of race, class and gender,
much in the way Mr. Smith once slashed through defenses.
"Whenever times have been hard and bad, even from the Depression and our
early wars, what people often turn to is entertainment and the arts. They
symbolize hope," says Ann Williams, 69, founder and artistic director of the
Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
"Emmitt and his performance have been something for us to look forward to.
It's difficult, having to hear what's happening in Iraq every single day.
Entertainment has always been there for us in our darkest hours, and at the
moment," she says, "Emmitt is that entertainment."
So, as a dance professional, how does Ms. Williams feel about Emmitt the Fred
"I think he is just fabulous!" she says, giving all the credit to the same
drive and work ethic he showed as a football player. "There's no way that he
could be in the finals without having the same stick-to-it-iveness and work
ethic he had as an athlete."
Mr. Smith's charisma has helped propel the dance competition, , which pairs
celebrities with professional dancers, to top-five status, with 20.5 million
people watching in the most recent television ratings. His appeal extends even
to those who can't walk as well as they once did, much less dance.
"He makes me feel young again," says Elizabeth Pottinger, 89, who fondly
remembers her dancing days at Denton High School and North Texas State
University and who never misses an episode of Dancing With the Stars from
her home at Hide-A-Way Lake near Lindale.
Not long ago, Ms. Pottinger had the large muscle running from her knee to her
hip on her right leg removed, because of a cancerous tumor. Doctors feared she'd
never walk again, though she does, albeit with a limp. Her dancing days are
behind her, she says, except when she can lose herself in the vicarious thrill
that a dancing Mr. Smith delivers.
"He's been my favorite through all the years in football, and he's my
favorite now in dancing," says Ms. Pottinger. "I just think he's very graceful
and personable. He has that pleasant smile on his face. His eyes twinkle. He
looks like he's enjoying it so much."
Ms. Pottinger also loves to call the toll-free number to vote for Mr. Smith
and partner Cheryl Burke each time they perform. It makes her feel as if she has
a hand in the outcome.
And she does. Viewers' votes are combined with the judges' marks to calculate
the dance teams' scores after each dance. The team with the lowest score is
eliminated each week. And so far, Mr. Smith has made it through nine weeks.
Tuesday, he and actor Mario Lopez, with partner Karina Smirnoff, will go for the
Dancing With the Stars title.
Rita Kirk, 53, a professor of communication at Southern Methodist University,
says the show appeals because "it's something that everybody has thought about
in one way or another." Even in the "princess dreams of little girls growing up,
the prince always knows how to dance."
She contends that much of the show's popularity has to do "with the romance
of dancing, which has been lost in American culture. Our culture is high-tech
and low-touch. ... But here's an opportunity for socially approved touching. So
people find it to be fun and intriguing and interesting."
Mr. Smith's performance also is heating up the phone lines at dance studios
from callers females and males interested in classes.
"Everyone in their heart wishes they could dance," says Toni Musgrow, 38, who
lives in Frisco and manages the IDance2 studio in Plano,
where Mr. Smith and Ms. Burke did some of their rehearsing.
IDance2 is one of many places across North Texas, sports bars included,
that plan "Emmitt-watching parties" on their big-screen televisions Tuesday
When it comes to dance, "most just haven't stepped out to do it," says Ms.
Musgrow. "So, to have someone local, who's as charming as Emmitt Smith and a
beloved Cowboys legend at that has only added fuel to the fire. Guys are even
getting interested in dancing. As one male customer told me just the other day:
'Emmitt makes dancing look manly .'
"Wow. That may be the biggest endorsement of all."