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Wide receivers are often compared to ballet dancers, but the
truth is that dancers are probably in much better shape and
condition than most NFL players. "Dance is more tiring than
football," says Eagle wideout Fred Barnett, a student of both.
"I can dance for five minutes and feel like I've played a whole

The sixth-year pro runs pass routes in a classic mold, swiftly
and precisely. In 1994 he set a team record for most receptions
by a wideout (78). Last Oct. 24 against Houston the All-Pro made
a 54-yard catch and two 53-yard receptions in front of a
national Monday night audience. After running the second
53-yarder into the Veterans Stadium end zone in the third
quarter, Barnett pranced over to ABC sideline reporter Lynn
Swann and presented him with the ball. Fifteen years ago Swann
became the first NFL player to appear on TV in a contemporary
dance performance. "My teammates don't realize how close they
are to dancers," Barnett says. "You see dance moves all the time
on the field."

When Mikhail Baryshnikov leaps in an assemble ecarte, he's
making pretty much the same move that Barnett does when he leaps
to pull in a sideline pass and lands with both feet together and
just inbounds. And the way the 6-foot, 200-pound wideout hurdles
over would-be tacklers resembles a grand jete elance.

Barnett got caught up in dance back in 1990 when he started
dating Jackie Jeffries, then a member of Philadanco, a
Philadelphia-based modern dance company. "Being from
Mississippi, I had no clue about dance," he says. "All I knew
was you went to a club and you danced." Jeffries--now Barnett's
wife--started taking him to dance performances. "At first I
nodded off," he recalls. "But Jackie was the woman I wanted to
marry, so I had to get into dance."

Barnett says dance is not for wimps. "I was so tired after 20
minutes that I was ready to walk out," he says of his first
lesson, an African dance class in 1992. "I thought the class was
over, but we were only done with warmups." Through his dance
training Barnett has gained greater flexibility. He has also
picked up a stretching routine that helped him recuperate from
the knee injury that prematurely ended his 1993 season. "But
mostly dance taught me how to breathe," he says. "The breathing
techniques I learned became second nature when I got tired or
winded, and lessened the stress on my muscles."

What amazes Barnett most about great dancers is their impossibly
sustained leaps and jumps. "After my first jump I'd be shot," he
recalls. "But the fifth jumps of top dancers are often higher
than their first. Dancers are the real athletes, not football


COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANSIntroduced to dance by his wife, the Eagle wide receiver last year leaped to a new high in catches. [Fred Barnett and Jackie Jeffries dancing]