Dancers, athletes face off 

Have you ever taken a moment to examine the athleticism of a professional dancer? If you were to fixate your eyes on just one ballerina among a group and scrutinize each movement, you’d find that the end result is more than just a bunch of pretty pirouettes, but rather, a series of carefully executed feats of stamina, flexibility and skill.

So, when it comes to athletic ability, just who has the upper-hand physically — a dancer or an athlete?

The question will be tested on Thursday, when UC Berkeley’s top athletes and members of San Francisco’s renowned ODC/Dance troupe will battle it out in "Toe to Toe," a fundraiser for the ODC Dance Commons. Areas of competition test skill, strength and agility, in activities ranging from rope climbing and agility tubing to balance board jousting.

The idea for "Toe to Toe" came about when dance enthusiast and arts supporter Warren Hellman grew tired of listening to reluctant ballet-goers dismiss the athletic prowess of dancers. With the help of ODC Artistic Director Brenda Way and UC Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour, the benefit event was created not only to hush the naysayers, but to help raise funds in support of the ODC Dance Commons, a burgeoning dance center that supports a variety of performing arts activities in San Francisco.

"I said, ‘Let’s do it!’ ODC has always been a very athletic company and I thought it would be such an interesting mix — the Cal athletes up against our dancers," Way says.

In addition to the competition, the evening offers up the chance to rub elbows with big-name sports stars including Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Willie Mays and dance luminaries Joanna Berman, KT Nelson and Kimi Okada, just to name a few.

Of course, no sporting event would be complete without the backdrop of hot dogs, beer, cheerleaders and a much anticipated blooper reel.

The merging of the arts and sports worlds is sure to draw an enthusiastic crowd of supporters, says Way, who jokes that "You can just imagine what it’s going to be like — those Cal people are crazy."

The evening wraps with a "Dancing with the Stars-esque" collaboration between the athletes and dancers and culminates with a choreographed production to Aretha Franklin’s "Respect."

Amy Bair, UC Berkeley’s director of student-athlete development, says while basketball star Jordan Wilkes served as the poster boy for the event and helped draw the 25-plus student participants, there was little even he could do to quell the intimidation factor surrounding the grande finale and time commitments necessary for rehearsals.

"We did scare some away at first, but I think we ended up with a really great group," Bair says. "There was an instant admiration between [the dancers and athletes]. There’s a lot of respect in both directions and I think they were all impressed by their strengths and what they can do."

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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