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Friday, January 27, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Punt, pass and plié: Ballet has its Seahawks fans, too

Seattle Times staff reporter

Craig Hall has trained most of his life for this moment — a chance to earn a spot in the School of American Ballet's summer course. For the 16-year-old who started dancing at 5, it would be a giant step toward his goal of joining the New York City Ballet.

His audition, however, is at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 5 — the same time his beloved Seattle Seahawks will be playing in Super Bowl XL. He has waited a long time for that moment, too.

"It's awful," said Hall, of Woodinville.

With a charming innocence, Hall asked his instructor at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School whether he thought it would be OK to write a letter asking if the time for the audition could be moved.

"Um, no," Bruce Wells replied.

Super Bowl obsession is seeping into places you might assume it would skip, such as the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB). Professional ballet and professional football seem like diametric opposites on the cultural brow. One is white wine poured gently into crystal glasses. The other is watered-down domestic beers sloshing in 32-ounce plastic cups.

Toe shoes vs. face paint.

Yet during a class Monday among PNB's company dancers, Casey Herd and James Moore turned their choices in wardrobe into a mini-spectacle. Herd wore a Seahawks hooded sweatshirt to class, while Moore, a native San Franciscan who danced four years with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, donned a gold headband and wiped the sweat from his brow with his Pittsburgh Steelers "Terrible Towel."

"We used to wave 'Terrible Towels' in December during 'Nutcracker' shows," Moore recalled.

Herd, who grew up in Salt Lake City, adopted the Seahawks as his team and likes the Steelers — except when they play Seattle.

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"I think we're the only football fans in this place, actually," Moore said of the ballet school.

Not quite.

Think about it: Ballet and football have as many similarities as differences. Both ballet dancers and football players are athletes who endure grueling practices under the watchful eyes of demanding taskmasters. They must be precise, disciplined and exhibit amazing balance and body control. Their careers peak at an early age and can be ruthlessly curtailed by injury.

In fact, football players have been known to study ballet to help their game. Former Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, credits dance training with helping him develop the flexibility and coordination he displayed on the field. Big oafs on the offensive and defensive lines chassť, too.

Chalnessa Eames, a PNB dancer who grew up in Bellingham, said she can appreciate the pressure that football players are under on game days because she feels the same during her stage performances.

"My husband can be watching a football game and say, 'Hey, stupid!' when a player does something wrong," she said. "I'm a little more forgiving. 'Maybe he's just having an off day,' I'll tell him."

Eames said that during a PNB fundraiser in Bellevue on Sunday, the Winter Wonderland Ball, many in attendance clustered around a TV in a corner to watch the Seahawks game against the Carolina Panthers. Jessika Anspach, a PNB dancer from Bellevue, admits leaving early to watch the game at home because the TV reception at the ball was fuzzy.

"I've never been a big Seahawks fan, although I did watch a couple of games this year," said Anspach, whose parents traveled back East for a game earlier this season. "We can all get in a good mood when the team is doing well. It must be unreal for those players to have the entire city behind them and have everyone wearing their jerseys."

Patricia Barker, a principal dancer with PNB, said she watched Sunday's Seahawks win "screaming, hooting and hollering" like everyone else.

"Any time, and in any way, that a company or organization from our town does well, it helps put us all on the map," she said. "And it makes people feel good about everything else going on in the city."

Wells, the instructor to young Hall, is amused by it all.

"I wish my art form created the emotional fervor that this thing does," said Wells, a Tacoma native. "We struggle with our ticket sales for the ballet, and my understanding is that they can't sell Seahawks T-shirts fast enough."

Wells was resident choreographer for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre before moving back to the Puget Sound area in 1997 to join the PNB school faculty. But he is unmoved by both the Seahawks and the Steelers.

"Football is just not my thing," said Wells, 56, who began his professional dancing career with the New York City Ballet at age 16. "But I'd like to see Seattle win. It's better for the city."

Wells said he does not plan to watch the Super Bowl.

"I'll probably go to the movies," he said. "I like to spend my days off seeing something riveting, intellectually challenging or visually beautiful."

And Hall, his prize student, will be sweating it out in more ways than one.

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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