By Dan Jewel
November 27, 2000 12:00 PM

As prima ballerina of the Houston Ballet, Lauren Anderson has captivated audiences from Moscow to Manhattan with her delicacy and grace. But don’t be fooled by the tutu. “Honey,” she says matter-of-factly, “I ain’t no tofueatin’ vegetarian. And I’m not one of your little frail, anorexic ballerinas, either. I’m an athlete.”

She’s also a football fan—and a semiprofessional one at that. For the past two years Anderson, 35, has broadcast her pro-game picks weekly on the popular Houston radio station Sunny 99.1 with eerie accuracy. In her first season 92 percent of her picks were on the mark; last year 86 percent proved true. But it’s not just her uncanny calls that keep her on the air. “She’s full of energy and spirit,” says deejay Weaver Morrow. “Listeners love her.”

Still, the result wasn’t exactly what station managers intended when they approached Anderson in 1998. As she recalls it, they had decided, “Let’s do something ridiculous, spooflike, and have a ballerina do football picks because she won’t know what she’s talking about.” Little did they know they were dealing with a lifelong fan. “On Sundays,” says Anderson, “I want to sit down, drink a beer and watch football. I go to sleep to ESPN.”

Her love of the game was formed early. Born in Houston, the only child of Doris Parker-Morales, 59, a piano teacher, and Lawrence Anderson, 62, a school administrator, she was raised primarily by her father after her parents divorced. “At all the family events,” Anderson recalls, “the guys were watching football—and I would hang with my daddy.” But her parents also nurtured her cultural side. At age 7, Doris took her to see a local production of The Nutcracker—and Anderson’s love of ballet was born. Soon after, she began lessons at the Houston Ballet Academy. “Even then,” remembers Ben Stevenson, its artistic director, “she was very feisty.”

But as a teenager Anderson put on weight, and Stevenson suggested she find another form of dance. “I didn’t have your typical ballerina body,” she says. “Long, thin legs, archy feet, really loose hips. Blonde.” Determined to prove Stevenson wrong, the 5’4″ teen cut meat from her diet, exercised more and soon trimmed down to her current 115 lbs. “In the end,” he concedes, “she won out.” After graduating from Lamar High School in 1982, she joined the Houston Ballet and in 1990 became one of the few African-Americans in the nation to be promoted to principal dancer. When he received some racist mail about her promotion, Stevenson was “upset,” he says, “[but] she would just say, ‘Let’s get on with it.’ She’s always been very positive on racial issues.”

Now Anderson, who also teaches master classes at the Houston Academy, hopes to inspire other African-American children to take up the art. A few times a year, she visits inner-city schools and also invites children backstage after Nutcracker performances to see her dressed as the Sugar Plum Fairy. “I let them touch the tiara, the tutu,” she says. “Their eyes get as big as saucers.” When her schedule permits, she likes to visit jazz clubs and go out dancing. Eventually the twice-divorced ballerina, who is dating jazz saxophonist Kyle Turner, 37, plans to trade in her tutu for a family. “When I quit dancing,” she says, “I’m gonna—bam, bam, bam—spit out three kids.” Whether they follow their mother into ballet or not, chances are they’ll know their ballet tights from their tight ends.

Dan Jewel

Gabrielle Cosgriff in Houston