Wide Receiver Willie Gault Becomes the First Dancing Bear to Perform with Chicago's Ballet

updated 10/13/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/13/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When Willie Gault shows off his fancy footwork, it's usually to catch a pass from Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. Last year his 33 receptions for 704 yards helped lead the Bears to the Super Bowl. But last week Gault, 26, was on his toes for another team. He put his helmet and pads aside and donned tights to dance with the Chicago City Ballet. His job, in addition to hoisting ballerina Maria Terezia Balogh aloft, was to help raise money for the ballet and the youth programs of the Better Boys Foundation. "I always wanted to study ballet," says Gault, who majored in business administration at the University of Tennessee, "but I couldn't get into any class in college because you needed high school prerequisites, and I didn't have any."

Gault's winning performance wowed critics and fellow dancers alike. "Willie Gault—a man for all seasons," crowed a local television newscaster. "He's amazing," said Chicago Ballet dancer Joseph Malbrough. "He's fast moving. He has very quick legs. And he is definitely musical. You can tell he is listening to the little notes." Said principal dancer Balogh, who balanced precariously on the fingertips of the 6'1", 183-lb. Gault during the performance: "He's very aware and quickly picks up routines and patterns, as a footballer must."

Gault agreed to perform with the Chicago Ballet when his wife, Dainnese, 26, eight months pregnant with the couple's first child, became co-chair of the benefit. The opening piece of the show was Dreamer's Journey, in which Gault was joined onstage by 25 inner-city teenagers who danced, rapped, skated and skipped with Willie. Teammates McMahon, Calvin Thomas, Ken Marjoram and Kevin Butler showed up to cheer their sure-handed receiver's debut performance. "The hardest part," says Gault, "was turning my feet out. And there's no way I can get right up on my toes. Now, that takes real athletic ability."

Predictably, Gault's teammates on the fearsome Bears teased him by "spinning around and doing plies in the locker room," Gault reports, but the gibes at his masculinity rolled off his broad back. "I'm not real hung up on the macho aspect of football," he says. "Ballet isn't a sissy sport."

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