CANTON Eighteen high school football players took on a different opponent than what they are used to facing on a football field. On Sunday, players from nine high schools came to audition for the "Touchdowns and Tutus" dance event that pairs football players with Canton Ballet ballerinas for a stage performance and fundraiser.
This is the second year for the event, and Ashley Bettis, an alumnus of the Canton Ballet the director of the performance, said the first year was so successful that it raised more money for scholarships. This year, it attracted the attention of the NFL Films.
"Producer and director Greg Frith brought his film crew to the auditions and will be filming some of the rehearsals and the performance in March," Bettis said.
NFL Films is filming the different components of the event for a documentary. Bettis said the release date for the documentary hasn’t been determined.
The first major difference in Sunday’s competition was the players had to remove their shoes and socks compete and audition in their bare feet. They happily complied and soon got down to business. All of the players seemed like they were in it to win it.
Instructor Jennifer Catazaro Hayward along with assistance from several ballerinas got the football players involved with a number of ballet routines. Bettis said there are many similarities between football and ballet.
"The footwork is similar because of the practice drills the players do, the discipline to practice, practice, practice, strength training is similar and both work on their core. Plus, both football players and ballet dancers have body awareness. The instincts for throwing a ball and catching it or throwing a ballerina and catching her has similar awareness factors," she said.
Bettis said she believes the football players are motivated to get involved with the event because they are aware of the results of what their efforts will be for the community.
"When they sign their Canton Ballet contract, they become aware of the many ways their involvement will help so many others in the community. They will be helping those kids who may not otherwise have the opportunity to take ballet classes or attend a live performance," she said.
With the audition for the football players complete, the next step is to audition the ballerinas which Bettis said will happen in late October or early November. Rehearsals begin in January 2018 and the final performance will be on March 10, 2018, at Umstattd Performing Arts Hall with a reception after at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There will be 13 couples performing.
Touchdowns and Tutus has become the main fundraiser for Canton Ballet and replaces the Nutcracker Ball and other galas held in the past. Proceeds from the event will go to the Canton Ballet for a number of resources and activities including $20,000 for scholarships for financial aid to underserved kids who want to learn ballet.
Monies will also go to assisting the outreach educational programs for "Peter and the Wolf" and "The Nutcracker." Finally, funds will be used to provide live musical performers in the classrooms at Canton Ballet as accompaniment for practices.
"I just want to thank all of those football players who got involved last year which was our first year," Bettis said. "They really laid the groundwork to make this a sustainable fundraiser. They changed the whole dynamic of getting people engaged in the arts because of instead of people in the arts talking about the arts, it’s athletes trying to get people engaged in the arts," she said.
The judges panel for the audition included Angelo Lemmon, resident choreographer; Menka Mishkiff, alumnus and rehearsal coach; Bettis; David Morgan, former sports writer for The Beacon Journal and 10th grade English teacher at Washington High School; Joy Raub, alumnus, choreographer and works for the Domestic Violence Project; Christy Donnelly, alumnus and rehearsal coach and a Stark County Prosecutor; and James Waters, videographer for the Canton Ballet and founding director of the Canton Film Fest.
Bettis said the audition was open to all area schools. She sent out multiple communications to all of the schools in the county, contacted coaches and principals and has done many radio segments encouraging football players from all of Stark County schools to come for the audition. Players who responded came from nine area schools, including Alliance, Central Catholic, GlenOak, Garaway, Louisville, Massillon, Minerva, Perry and St. Thomas Aquinas.