Anyone who doubts that testosterone and Swarovski crystals go together should turn to Antonio Brown for validation.
The NFL wide receiver easily propels his lean, forceful body into a somersault while running toward a touchdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s also game to making his debut on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” in front of 12.5 million viewers in a gold crystal-studded jacket accentuated with black velvet sleeves.
“Antonio is very fun to dress,” said Sharna Burgess, his Australian dance partner on the long-running show, who is responsible for choreographing their routines as well as designing their costumes. “He’s not afraid of wearing prints or jewels or trying something new and loud. And that is really quite exciting to work with for me because usually we’re just begging someone to put a single Swarovski crystal on their costume. Sometimes the guys don’t want to do that.”
Yesterday, the 27-year-old football player continued to gladly follow Burgess’ lead in a foxtrot down the length of a Hollywood dance studio toward a purple wall decorated with light bulbs spelling out “DWTS.” Holding his left hand in her right, she said, “I didn’t know you could turn so well.” “Thank you,” he replied in a soft, low voice that belied his 5’ 10” frame packed with 181 pounds of muscle. Arms up in the air again, she told him, “You’re mimicking me and it’s making you really smooth. It’s great.” Seconds later, she reminded him, “Try not to lean your body forward and stick your booty out.”
Brown, who has enough athletic prowess to earn him a reported $8 million in the NFL in one season, confessed that he didn’t expect training for the dance competition to be this hard. Over the past two years, he had been debating whether he should participate or not. “The opportunity finally presented itself and I thought, ‘What a great time to be dancing and learn some new exercises,’” he said. It turned out that “you have to be in the studio for lots of hours, listening to the same song over and over. This is creating a habit, you know, working at a song, trying to perfect the craft of dancing and learning a routine and the details that go along with it. It’s been a challenge each week to be able to grab all those things and be able to go out and perform.”
Brown was lucky enough to receive a couple of tips from Hines Ward, a former wide receiver for the Steelers, who won the mirror crystal ball on the show in 2011. Along with Chad Ochocinco, another football player-turned-contestant, Ward advised Brown: “Continue to grow each week and embrace the process and have fun.”
Helping to motivate him is competition and camaraderie from two other football players — Super Bowl champ Von Miller and Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie. “We always want to see each other do well,” Brown said. “And I think we all want to win. As competitive as you are, you always want to win. That’s what makes it be so exciting. We all try to be a better dancer.”
The rivalry doesn’t stop with fancy footwork. “I think Von Miller’s got great style,” Brown said. “For a defensive end, I think he has receiver-type style, swag.”
Certainly, Brown exemplifies “receiver-type style.” Whether learning new choreography or sweating at the gym, he wears head to toe athletic gear from Nike. He’s also fond of suits by Dolce & Gabbana, shoes by Christian Louboutin, streetwear from Fear of God and jeans by Acne Studio and Balmain. “I love playing with fashion,” he said. Growing up in Miami, he was partial to vintage football jerseys, leather pants and sweats covered with all the NBA team patches. He’s open to following the footsteps of NBA star Russell Westbrook, who has moved into designing clothes. “I think one day I would love to,” he said, listing “suits, workout wear [and] comfortable underwear” as some possible ventures. Now, he works with his tailor to make “everything custom-fitted to show the physique.”
Burgess took it one step further last week for their rumba. She fused sex and class in his dove gray satin shirt that had a pleated bib. Then she asked him to leave the shirt unbuttoned all the way. Brown didn’t mind. “It had to suit the dance and get us the votes,” he said, adding that the mohawk was his idea to create “more of a sexy look.”
On the next broadcast on Monday night, Brown is going to follow a classic dress code in a three-piece suit cut from a gold and bronze printed fabric. Set to join him in a foxtrot choreographed to Lukas Graham’s pop ballad “7 Years,” his eight-year-old son will be his mini me in a matching get-up.
“When I create a number, it comes to me in colors and images first,” Burgess said. “When I hear [Graham’s] song, it’s grounded but it’s neutral.” Besides, she said, “it’s just so beautiful on [Brown’s] skin that the minute I saw it, I thought that is the right fit for this number.”
Brown said Antonio Jr. is eager to become the first contestant’s child to appear in a dance number on the show. “He’s fired up,” he said. “He’s telling everybody in school about it.”
Presenting father and son is a bold ploy to gain votes and break the Internet. As Brown reminded a visitor, “In a competition, there’s always winners and losers. And I think everyone is here to win, which makes it fun for us all.”