LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. — If running back Chris Curry makes an impact in his freshman season at LSU this fall, he’ll have plenty of people to thank for getting him there.
Strength and conditioning coach Matt Booth is one of them. Curry works out nearly every day with Booth, who has trained NFL players from the Fort Myers, Fla., area such as Jevon Kearse and Sammy Watkins.
But he won’t forget about Lauren Gomez, either. You know — his dance instructor.
“I would recommend dancing and stretching to every athlete, regardless,” Curry said. “Thirty minutes to an hour every night.”
Gomez has been encouraging coaches at Lehigh High School to send their athletes to her dance classes since she began working there. But none of them was ever willing to swallow their pride and cross that macho line.
“They were always just too embarrassed to do it,” she said. “Last year, Chris was like, ‘I’ll see you next year,’ and I was like ‘All right, I’ll believe it when I see it.’ ”
Sure enough, Curry showed up on the first day of his senior year. It didn’t take him long to notice the benefits when it came to stretching out his muscles.
“It was a huge difference,” Curry said. “Coach Booth tried to get me into it as early as possible. I wish I would have gotten into it starting as a freshman.
“You stretch so much. Every muscle. Hamstrings. There’s different parts of your legs, I’ve never felt that type of feeling before. Hip flexors, all that. We even stretch our arms, our backs, our necks. It’s just being loose.”
Curry’s initial resistance was about what you’d expect it to be. He didn’t see himself as a particularly artsy type. But he quickly learned that there is a physicality to the art of dance.
“Dancers, they come out of their soul. I was like, ‘I don’t really want to be working like that,’ ” Curry said. “Until I did it. Then it was, like, crazy. ‘I have to give it to y’all. I underestimated y’all.’ ”
Curry’s class had a heavy emphasis on modern dance, which can be tricky.
“We have this thing in modern dance called triplets,” Gomez explained. “Your body is used to doing things in a rhythm of four. When you count off in dance, [the beat is] 5-6-7-8 because you’re going on counts of four.
“Triplets are in a three. So the music is in a three. It’s hard to hear if you’re used to hearing four. It took him awhile, but even with the freshmen girls kind of giggling at him because they thought it was cute, he did it anyway.”
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back cut quite a figure on the dance floor. And he quickly learned that his new moves helped him when making cuts on the football field.
“It’s crazy,” Curry said. “One minute I was like ‘Man, this jump’s hard.’ Then the next day I had a football game, so it really helped. I was tightroping everything on my toes. All that helped.”
The key is in the footwork.
“The biggest thing I have athletes work on is the articulation of their feet,” Gomez said. “When a dancer jumps off the floor, they go from their heel through the arch of their foot, then follow their foot through their big toe.
“You don’t think about the big toe, but when you add it in, you get way off the ground. I said, ‘Listen Chris, you’re jumping, you’re strong. You get off the ground. Now let’s work on the flexibility in your feet.’ And he was like, ‘You’re right. The big toe makes quite a huge difference.’ ”
The Chris Curry effect
Once an athlete with Curry’s prominence broke the ice, his teammates were suddenly ready to follow in his footsteps.
“Chris really made it acceptable for an athlete to be interested in dance,” Gomez said. “After he joined, I got a ton of athletes with interest who are taking class to help with their own craft.”
When you ask Gomez about Curry, you get the same answer that you do from his football coaches. Above all else, it’s his work ethic that stands out.
“If I could relate it to how it would help him with football, you would see him just really engage in it,” she said. “I know at times he probably felt silly or goofy. But he always did it anyway. He would go across the floor; he’d do anything I’d ask him.”
The real question is this: If Curry had to perform an actual dance routine, would he be able to pull it off?
“I think he would do fine. He had a really easy time relating his football to the similarities in movement of dance. Remembering a play is the same as remembering a dance phrase,” Gomez said. “I don’t think he would be jumping for joy about it. But I don’t think that he would be lost in any way.”
Curry agrees that he’d hold his own on the dance floor. But don’t expect to see him doing that any time soon.
“If I practiced, I think I’d have a little something,” Curry said. “But it’s for private. Private!”
For now, the only place to see Curry’s dance moves on display is on the football field.