Taylor tackles 'Dancing with Stars'

Other News Materials 16 March 2008 23:21 (UTC +04:00)

( AP )- When Jason Taylor takes the stage to face network TV cameras and dance the fox trot, he figures his jitters will be Super Bowl-size.

"I'll be shaking," he says.

Still, the Miami Dolphins defensive end is glad he accepted an invitation to perform on "Dancing With the Stars." He'll be among the contestants when the show begins its sixth season Monday night.

Taylor says he's having "a blast" learning to dance, despite an arduous practice regimen that involves six hours a day in the studio, with sessions likely to become longer as the competition proceeds.

He says his feet hurt - and that's not all.

"You're using a different muscle group in dancing. It's different from football," Taylor says from Los Angeles by phone. "I'm learning there are a few joints and muscles I didn't realize God gave me."

The hit ABC show has featured former NFL players before - Emmitt Smith won his competition, and Jerry Rice was a popular contestant. Among those competing against Taylor this season will be Grand Slam tennis champion Monica Seles and Olympic skating gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi.

But Taylor is the first active NFL player to take part.

"He's the first guy I asked who is playing right now," says Deena Katz, the show's senior talent producer. "Jason was my dream. He's one of those guys everybody knows who he is. I thought, 'I'll ask him,' but honestly I never thought he was going to say yes."

Taylor says he has watched the show, but when approached about taking part, he first declined. His wife urged him to reconsider, and he wavered for more than two months before deciding to give it a whirl.

Why his reluctance?

"I don't dance," he says. "I don't dance at clubs. I don't dance at bar mitzvahs. I don't dance at weddings. I just don't dance.

"For whatever reason, I decided to give it a shot. I figured I'd put myself out there a little bit and stretch the limits and challenge myself to do something I wouldn't ordinarily do."

Taylor, who is on his sixth head coach with the Dolphins, is now taking instruction from his dancing partner, Edyta Sliwinska. At 5-foot-6 she's a foot shorter than Taylor, but he looks up to her anyway.

He's a willing student grateful to have a good teacher.

"She's the best coach I've ever had, better than all of them," he says. "She looks better, she sounds better, she's more polite and yet she gets the work done."

So is he now a good dancer?

"No," he says.

At 255 pounds, he calls himself Twinkletoes Taylor only in jest. But despite being a ballroom-dancing rookie, he says his goal is to win.

If Taylor and Sliwinska do well, the show could keep him in California until May. Then it will be back to football - at age 33, he says he has ruled out retirement and plans to play a 12th NFL season.

The Dolphins have missed the playoffs the past six years and hit bottom last season, when they went 1-15. But despite the sorry state of the franchise, Taylor says he wants to remain with Miami.

"Heck, yeah, that's where I've been for 11 years," he says. "Where else would I want to go? That's home."

But he has yet to speak with new Dolphins football czar Bill Parcells. Taylor says he doesn't know whether the new regime is unhappy he's doing a TV show in Los Angeles rather than taking part in the team's offseason training program.

"I don't really care, either, to be honest," Taylor says. "Everybody has different interests. Coach Parcells likes horses. I'm not a big horse guy. Should I gripe about him liking horses? No.

"There are a lot worse things I could be doing in the offseason than working out every day and dancing and getting in great shape. I'm not the only guy in NFL history that hasn't worked out in the offseason program every day."

Taylor's agent, Gary Wichard, also defends the decision to take part in "Dancing With the Stars." He says Taylor has a bright future after football, with movies one possibility, and the show will raise his profile in Hollywood.

"He's not going to pass up something like this," Wicard says. "Peyton Manning and Eli Manning are probably doing 52 commercials this offseason. Bottom line, it's Jason's offseason. And when it's time to play football, nobody will be in better shape."

Taylor says dancing will help his football by improving his footwork, agility and balance. And the athleticism that makes him one of the NFL's best pass rushers helps his dancing.

"A lot of things translate to both playing fields," he says.

He'll dance the mambo in another week, but first comes the fox trot. For his "Dancing" debut, Taylor plans to wear dark blue formal wear - "very debonaire," he says - and leave the glitz to Sliwinska.

Maybe Taylor will have a chance to give sequins and spandex a try later in the competition. Katz, for one, predicts he'll be around awhile.

"There is just something about him," the talent producer says. "He is going to cross over. At first he'll get the men voting for him, the football fans. Women may vote for him because he's beautiful.

"But it goes past that, and his personality is going to come out. He's charming. There's an energy about him. You want to be with him, and he makes you smile."

Jason Taylor tackling the fox trot? That should be enough to make anyone smile.