It wasn't his original intention to become a dancer. Ronnie Underwood just took a class to improve his hand-eye coordination on the track when he was younger. Years later, the same thought occurred to him again when he saw a studio across the street from a track where was supposed to race. Why not dance a bit again to strengthen his skills?
Now, a decade later, Underwood is a full-time professional dancer at Ballet West. He still loves cars, but he realized he'll meet a lot more girls in tights than a racing suit.
I'm talking to Underwood on the phone we're discussing his large collection of hot rods and he keeps pausing, as if he's trying to remember what exactly he owned. How many cars could there possibly be? Then I realize he's in the garage of his trucking company — yes, he owns a trucking company — physically counting up his collection.
"I've got an old '82 Chevy StepSide with a pursuit interceptor motor and it's just in pieces, I'm actually walking around it right now," he explains. "[I've got a] '56 Buick Special, '65 Lincoln Continental Convertible, '66 Mustang, '65 Malibu SS — four-speed car, bucket seats… '56 Ford big window, '60 Coupe DeVille…"
Not exactly what you'd expect from a ballet dancer. Exactly what you'd expect from a guy who earned three consecutive regional Quarter Midget championships and started racing shifter karts when he was just seven years old.
Technically, he started dancing earlier. At age six he was waiting for his sister at her dance class and he thought he'd join her to acquire some of the grace necessary to be a successful racer. The dancing stopped and the racing picked up full time until he ended up at a track in Denton, Texas near a dance studio.
"I thought 'Why don't you try some classes?' and just randomly took a dance class when I was in Texas racing cars," says Underwood. "You never know what's going to get thrown your way. I get offered my job and my mom and ad were like 'Why don't you do this for a while?' and it's been ten or eleven years and I'm still lifting girls for money"
Speaking of girls, what gets more female attention: dancing or driving?
"Being a dancer for sure,"he says. "You get your racing groupies and girls who like fast cars, but there are more girls out there who like the arts."
Not like Underwood can't do both. Dancers are like F1 drivers in that they both tend to have relatively short productive lives. He'll continue his trucking company, maybe open a studio, do some personal training, hopefully buy some cattle, and, oh, maybe go racing again. It's not that different.
"I think most racing is a lot like ballet. If I start a male variation and it lasts close to two minutes there's no time outs. You're at full out sprinting, and that's why it's really similar to racing. Once you drop that green flag you have to make it to the checkered flag," he explains.
He's open to anything. He just went noodling — catching catfish with your bare hands — the other day.
"Well shit, I didn't know about trying to catch a catfish with my bare hands so I went out hand fishing and caught a 20-pounder," he tells me.
Most guys probably don't grow up dreaming of performing George Ballantine's "Apollo" and owning a '65 Buick Riviera, but anyone who might dare question his choices would have to catch him first.
You can see Underwood tonight on the CW's show Breaking Pointe at 8/7c.