Most valuable pliéer: Jimmy Madden dances back into baseball

While most of James “Jimmy” Madden’s baseball teammates go through the motions of off-season weight training and honing of fundamentals, Madden circumvents the monotony with a rather unconventional addition to preparation for the spring season. Months before the left-hander will return to belting base hits for the Missionaries, he is strapping on a dance belt and taking a more light-hearted and light-of-foot approach to getting ready for returning to the field after off-season knee surgery.

Jimmy Madden ’14 (center in blue) cross-trains for baseball with biweekly ballet class. Photos by Catie Bergman.

From Madden’s brawny frame it is evident the catcher-turned-outfielder has not been neglecting the weight room, but beneath those rigid muscles lies the heart of a dancer. Twice a week, Madden attends a ballet class to find body control and creative expression between Rob Thaller’s smooth instrumental jazz beats.

Whitman prides itself on its efforts to avoid stereotypes and generalizations but even so, Madden was faced with skepticism when he first started the class.

“At first, I didn’t know if he was serious or just doing it to be funny,” said sophomore classmate Elenore Bastian, who has since changed her beliefs about athletes. “He is a better dancer than me and is incredibly dedicated.”

Another classmate, sophomore Mcebo Mayiza, tweeted about Madden’s early struggles to adjust to the classical dance form, asking for “a moment of silence … for the baseball players in his ballet class.”

The class has since warmed up to Madden, but it would be hard not to. Each day he takes to the floor looking to get better, yet maintains his ability to laugh at himself when he misses a beat or loses balance. As he dances in perfect synchronization with his classmates, it is easy to see how well he has overcome his “bull in a china shop” perception to fit in with a class that almost entirely consists of females. But when he pushes off into a spin, he can’t help but let loose a brazen smile, and it is evident that Madden does not just fit in. He belongs.

Ballet is not Madden’s first dance class at Whitman. He has also taken a class in modern dance, and does not plan to stop here.

“If Whitman had a dance minor, I would have declared it a long time ago,” said an unabashed Madden, who is an economics major with a high supply of energy and even higher demand for dancing opportunities.

Dancing has never been about receiving recognition for Madden, though.

“It’s not a matter of credits or distribution. I’ve definitely caught the dancing bug. I genuinely enjoy tearing up the dance floor every Monday and Wednesday,” he said.

The only thing that can stop Madden from dancing is the baseball season. Afraid to risk injury, Madden gives his dancing hips a break to focus on his other passion.

Madden is not the first athlete to look to dance for an outlet of physical expression. Recently, The New York Times reported that University of Oregon running back Kenjon Barner takes ballet. When asked about the comparison, Madden humbly refused to be likened to a Heisman candidate, but was only half-joking when he said that the future NFL star “doesn’t hold a candle to [him] on the dance floor.”

To Visiting Instructor of Dance Peter de Grasse, it comes as no surprise that dance and athletics have intertwined themselves in the life of James Madden.

“One of the basic technical components of classical training is the placement of body weight toward the front of the foot and the application of downward pressure through the metatarsal joints. The result is a strengthening of the calf and soleus. This strength is used in the extension of the ankle joint at the last moment before a person leaves the ground in a jump. This kind of strength can make vertical jump easier, and may improve acceleration in the first forty meters of a sprint,” said de Grasse.

Ballet and dance can also help Madden’s fitness for baseball specifically.

“A supported core also allows for a better distribution of the force and torsion which can occur in joints during strenuous physical actions like batting or pitching. In this case, a stronger core can reduce strain and, ultimately, wear and tear on joints,” said de Grasse.

As the semester comes to a close, Madden’s ballet class will wrap up and the baseball season will start up. The moment he laces up his baseball cleats he will hang up his tights and dance belt, but only for the time being.

Whether or not Madden’s offseason dancing has prepared him to take the leaps and bounds he expects of himself and his young team is yet to be decided, but the leaps and bounds he took in the dance studio this semester will carry with him throughout his life.




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