Ski-U-Mah Life is a feature series from GopherSports.com that highlights some of the more than 700 Minnesota student-athletes outside of their athletic accomplishments. This week, senior Jake Short of the Gopher wrestling team is highlighted.
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Wrestling is a tradition in Jake Short’s family, so much so that his grandparents, father and uncles received an award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a family. By wrestling at Simley High School and becoming a Gopher, Short followed in his father and uncles’ footsteps. But for even longer, they have all followed in Short’s grandmother’s footsteps with another family tradition—not on the mat, but on the stage. Dance has been a big part of the Shorts’ lives for generations.
Short’s grandma, Pat, started dancing as a young girl and established a studio in 1965. That same studio is still in the family, as Short’s uncle Wade later took it over. Short’s dad, Will, and uncles grew up learning various types of dance. Jake and his sisters and cousins did, too.
Jake played multiple sports throughout his youth: tennis, football and wrestling in high school, and baseball when he was younger. He considers dance, which he did for about a decade, part of the five-sport mix of his childhood.
“I did every type of dance,” Short said. “I think it was a great experience for balance and agility and controlling the body. That helps in just about every sport.”
When he first got started in dance, it didn’t take much convincing for young Jake to embrace it.
“We had an all-guy group,” he said. “Every kid that was my friend, all the guys were basically in dance. All the parents came together and said, ‘Let’s throw the kids in dance.’ My cousins and best friends were all in it. So I was like, ‘It’s fun.’ My uncle did an amazing job at making it fun for guys.”
Jake and another friend stayed in dance even after many of their buddies dropped it. He said he competed in “every type of dance there was” for the studio. This included hip-hop, jazz, tap, ballet and even some lifts for pointe dances.
Hip-hop dance fit in well with tumbling his nephew would do in wrestling practice, Wade said. Jake showed the most skill and enjoyment for that particular style.
“I loved doing hip-hop dance,” Jake said. “There’s no doubt about that. It was fun to learn how you can control your body and move in different directions and motions. That allowed me to be more explosive, doing more flips, doing different things. Hip-hop was a good experience. I also enjoyed tap dancing a lot, too. That works a lot with footwork and footspeed, which is something that I’ve worked at my whole life.”
Back when he was playing football, some of Jake’s teammates ended up joining dance classes when they saw that it seemed to be helping him. As a wrestling coach, Wade has noticed improvement in athletes who have taken dance classes.
“It’s good for hand-eye coordination and footwork, things like that,” he said. “It’s good for body control, understanding your body a lot more. Ballet actually teaches a lot about body control. That’s why a lot of professional athletes have taken up ballet. Those are some of the basic fundamentals that actually help with any sport.”
Jake said he tries not to break out the dance moves at wrestling matches, aside from showing one here or there to his teammates. Wedding receptions are another story. At a recent family wedding, he flipped his way to second place in a dance-off. With so many people who have gone through the studio, including some with experience or aspirations of professional dance, Short family gatherings keep the DJ busy.
“When we get together and we’re having fun at a wedding, that’s when you can enjoy it,” Short said. “A lot of people are sitting on the side watching someone dance. In my opinion, they’re like, ‘Man, that looks fun. I wish I was able to do that.’ … You’re having fun and people are drawn to that. You can meet a lot of people by being able to move a little bit.”
Jake gave up formal participation in dance years ago. But it’s still a tradition he would like to continue.
“We grew up as a dancing family,” Short said. “That’s one thing that it seems like kids and parents are getting away from nowadays. If I have children, I’m definitely going to try to put that in their mindset—trying different sports. Don’t just start your kid off in one sport so they’re stuck on it their whole lives and get burnt out. I think if you give the kid different opportunities, their ability to learn can really help them in the future, not just with sports but with life and work and school.”
Justine Buerkle is an assistant director of athletic communications at the University of Minnesota, and a contributing writer to GopherSports.com and Ski-U-Mah Magazine.
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